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How Healthcare Professionals Can Improve Health Literacy

A healthy community is cultivated when everyone in it has access to information they can use to actively care for and promote their health. According to the World Health Organization, health literacy is “the cognitive and social skills which determine the motivation and ability of individuals to gain access to, understand and use information in ways that promote and maintain good health.” Health literacy ensures that communities have access to accurate health and safety information, individuals receive person-centered health information and services, and that everyone builds knowledge and skills to promote good health throughout their entire lives.

The CDC outlines that poor health literacy skills increase an individual’s risk of:

  • Receiving medical treatment in an untimely manner, or not at all.

  • Taking medication incorrectly or making other mistakes that could negatively impact their health.

  • Experiencing treatment outcomes that are worse than those with more proficient health literacy.

  • Needing healthcare treatment and services to a larger extent than those with advanced health literacy.

In order to mitigate these risks, healthcare professionals can do the following:

1) Create a positive environment for patients where they feel comfortable and understood.

2) Discuss medical plans, issues, and services in terminology that patients can fully understand.

3) Utilize supplemental information and technology to connect with and educate patients.

4) Encourage patients to ask questions and take the time to thoroughly address any comments or concerns patients may have.

5) Build community connections to pass along vital healthcare information.

Healthcare professionals are on the very front lines of delivering healthcare information to patients and are key to increasing and maintaining health literacy among their communities. By educating patients and their communities with accessible and understandable information, healthcare professionals become key to health literacy.

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