Health Literacy

The term ‘health literacy’ describes a person’s ability to understand and use health information.

It includes numeracy (numbers). For example, measuring out medications to take, tablets, blood sugar levels (for people with diabetes), or understanding nutrition labels. Those with a poor level of health literacy often lack knowledge about their body, or the nature or causes of disease.

How well we understand health information affects how we are able to:

  • Fill out complex forms or find health services
  • Share personal information, like a health history, with health professionals
  • Best manage a chronic disease
  • Understand the relationship between lifestyle choices and health.
  • Understand a medical diagnosis, and make decisions about treatment
  • Appreciate the role lifestyle, our genes (hereditary) and the environment play in our health
  • See how important screening and prevention is. For example, self-examinations, or regular GP checkups.

In 2014 Australia adopted the National Statement on Health Literacy. Health literacy depends on factors such as:

  • Communication skills of lay persons and professionals
  • Lay and professional knowledge of health topics
  • Culture
  • Demands of the healthcare and public health systems
  • Demands of the situation/context
  • Language and literacy skills

CanCare Navigators help improve health literacy by

  • Helping patients understand their diagnoses and treatment options
  • Help to organise and get to appointments
  • Explaining complex terms, as best understood
  • When online, finding information that is well referenced and scientifically correct
  • Assisting patients with language or cultural barriers
  • Connecting patients to resources and services

Interview:  Prof. Don Nutbeam on Health Literacy


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