Objective: To provide an overview of the key concepts, and issues of definition and measurement in health literacy, before considering approaches to improving health literacy in populations, and the implications for policy and practice.
Contents: Health literacy describes the possession of literacy skills that are required to make health-related decisions in a variety of different environments (home, community, health clinic). These skills vary from individual to individual, and poor health literacy has been consistently associated with adverse health outcomes. Health literacy can be improved through effective communication and education, and is moderated by the environment in which communication occurs. In clinical settings, research has consistently shown that low health literacy can be successfully identified, and can be improved through effective patient education to deliver better health outcomes. In the wider community, improving health literacy requires more than the transmission of new information, it also involves the development of empowering personal skills that enable participation in a range of actions that can protect and improve health. New communication technologies provide both challenges and opportunities for health education.
Conclusion: More personalised forms of communication, and active educational outreach will best support the goal of promoting greater independence in health decision-making. This requires more sophisticated understanding of the potential of education to strengthen both personal and community action to improve health. The use of relevant theories and models can provide important guidance on content, sequencing and delivery of health and patient education programs.