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What is health literacy? Definition and resources

Equitable access to medical care is valuable for everyone, and an important part of this equation is health literacy. Health literacy encompasses not just access to medical care, but also the ability to understand and use medical guidance. This can include anything from a doctor’s suggestions, to medication dosage information, and aftercare guidance.

As a patient, understanding health literacy, its importance, and how to improve it can be a helpful tool when navigating the medical care space. While the ultimate responsibility of making information accessible lies with the healthcare industry, there are some resources that can be helpful for patients trying to bridge this gap.

What is health literacy?

As of 2020, health literacy has been defined as a person’s ability to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others. While the internet has made health information more prominent, accessing accurate sources and understanding the content is vital to health literacy.

Why is health literacy important?

Because everyone will need to access health information at some point in their lives, the importance of health literacy impacts everyone. Health literacy not only enables individuals to seek care when they need it, but it can also empower them to more effectively manage their health on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, statistics estimate that nearly 36% of Americans have low health literacy — and this lack of understanding is not equally distributed across the population. Individuals are more likely to experience lower health literacy if they are of a lower socioeconomic status, in a minority, older, or speak English as a second language, making health literacy an essential consideration for diversity and inclusion in medical research, as well. 

Resources for understanding difficult medical terms

For individuals looking to improve their health literacy, there are ample resources for understanding difficult medical terms. Below are some we recommend:

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