What is health literacy?
Health literacy is the ability to obtain, communicate, process, and understand information about health. People need these skills to make good decisions about their health.
But nearly nine of every ten adults do not have the basic skills they need to manage their health (From Quick Guide to Health Literacy Fact Sheet: Health Literacy Basics, US Department of Health and Human Services).
We can help!
The Community Education Program helps MaineHealth member organizations improve their patient communication by providing these services free to MaineHealth member organizations:
- Staff training on patient-centered communication including health literacy, plain language and teach-back.
- Material review and development, including readability assessments
- Testing materials for usability with focus groups, individual interviews, and user testing
Why does health literacy matter?
Health literacy has a real impact on health outcomes and the use of health services:
- Use of preventive services. People with limited health literacy are less likely to use preventive services such as mammograms or colon cancer screening.
- Knowledge about conditions. They are more likely to have a chronic condition but less likely to know how to manage it.
- Hospitalization. They are more likely to go to the hospital.
- Health status. They are more likely to report poor health status.
- Healthcare costs. They are more likely to use costly health services.
(From Quick Guide to Health Literacy Fact Sheet: Health Literacy and Health Outcomes, US Department of Health and Human Services)
What can you do?
There are many things you can do to help patients understand and use health information. The two most commonly used, evidence-based approaches are to:
- Use plain language when talking or writing for patients and families.
- Use teach-back with patients and families to check for understanding.
- Attend a Health Literacy Training
Tools for Health Literacy
Plain-Language Checklist for Creating and Reviewing Your Materials
Use this quick, 2-page checklist when creating or reviewing materials.
Click here for the PDF version
Guidelines to Effective Print Communication
New to health literacy and plain-language writing? Start with this document!
A Guide to Creating and Evaluating Patient Materials: Guidelines for Effective Print Communication
MaineHealth developed these guidelines to help health professionals communicate clearly and consistently with patients and families.
Download the MaineHealth Guidelines or call 1-866-609-5183 to ask for a copy.
In this guide, you'll find:
- Key facts about health literacy
- Developing patient education materials: a step-by-step approach
- Checklist to develop and evaluate patient education materials
- Overview of readability
Plain Language Thesaurus
This document, by the CDC Nation Center for Health Marketing, lists plain language alternatives for hundreds of common medical terms.
Click here for the Plain Language Thesaurus for Health Communications
Health Literacy Tool Kit
This toolkit is designed to help practices take a systematic approach towards reducing confusion around medical care and increase health outcomes through clear communication.
Click here for the Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit
Teach-back Tool Kit
This tool kit helps providers learn how to use the teach-back method with patients to confirm understanding.
Click here for the Teach-back Tool Kit
Physician Experience about Learning Teach-back