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Health Literacy

Espaņol

What is Health Literacy?

IAPO defines health literacy to include an individual's reading level, as well as language, education level, cultural  background,  and  readiness  to  receive  health  information  by  oral  or  visual  means. 

All these factors may create barriers to understanding, and therefore to individuals' ability to take action to improve their health.  Therefore, health literacy involves both comprehending and taking appropriate action.

Why is Low Health Literacy a Problem?

Low health literacy affects a person's ability to make informed decisions about his or her health and can result in the ineffective treatment and rehabilitation of a patient's condition.  Poor levels of health literacy exist in all countries. 

For example, a 1995 US study found that one third of English-speaking hospital patients could not read or understand basic health materials (Williams et al, 1995):

  • Some 42 % could not understand instructions to take medication on an empty stomach.
  • 25% did not understand information on an appointment slip.
  • 60 % did not understand a standard consent form.

The elderly and those in poor overall health had the worst health literacy.

How Can Low Health Literacy be Overcome or Improved?

IAPO has developed a Policy Statement on health literacy, which calls all stakeholders involved in healthcare to:

  • Acknowledge the problem of low health literacy worldwide
  • Review the health-related information they produce and how this is communicated
  • Revise existing information and produce all future information according to health literacy guidelines like IAPO's

Our Policy Statement can be viewed online or downloaded as a PDF file for you to save, print or distribute. 

Our Health Literacy Guidelines can be used to improve the reach of health information to those with low health literacy.  The Guidelines can be viewed online or downloaded as a PDF file for you to save, print or distribute.

 
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