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UNDERSTANDING HEALTH LITERACY

By: Dr. Brandi Wilford, RN, DNP

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Understanding health information can be complex. Despite being an experienced health care professional, there are times when I have difficulty understanding the health information provided to me. I can only imagine the confusion and fear a person with little to no health care knowledge experiences when given health information they do not understand. Health literacy is a person’s ability to receive and comprehend health information to make informed choices. A person can have high
literacy overall but low health literacy (Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion [ODPHP], 2022). Some populations are known to have lower levels of health literacy. The elderly, minorities and those with low income who receive disproportionate health care compared to other groups may have lower health literacy (Health Resources & Services Administration, 2019).


Health literacy is critical because lack of health literacy may negatively impact a person’s ability to understand written health information and communicate with health care providers. Difficulty communicating with health care providers can lead to poor health outcomes, increased hospitalizations, reduced adherence to medical treatments, and increased emergency department visits. Children of parents with low health literacy face poor health outcomes because the parents may not understand the child’s health needs (ODPHP, 2022).

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