Health Literacy as defined in the Institute of Medicine report Health Literacy: A Prescription to End Confusion is “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.”

Health LiteracySaid another way, health literacy is how well the average healthcare consumer understands information received to make decisions about their health, wellness, and insurance needs.

Health literacy is not just a term for written documents, it also relates to how things are communicated with spoken words. Patients need to understand and know enough about their symptoms and conditions in order to ask the appropriate questions to seek medical advice or treatment directions.  Additionally, healthcare consumers need to understand and know enough about their health insurance options and finally their selected plan in order to ask the appropriate questions and utilize the benefits.

Less than 20% of the American population has “proficient” health literacy skills.  That leaves 80% of the population with average and below average skills.  Difficulties this population may have include:

  • Completing complex forms
  • Locating providers and services
  • Sharing personal information such as health history
  • Understanding how to take medicines