Health Literacy

What is health literacy?

Health literacy is the ability to obtain, communicate, process, and understand information about health. People need health literacy skills to make good decisions about their health.

Nearly 9 of every 10 adults do not have the basic health literacy skills they need to fully manage their health (Quick Guide to Health Literacy Fact Sheet: Health Literacy Basics, US Department of Health and Human Services).

We can help!

The Education and Training department helps MaineHealth organizations improve their patient communication by providing these services free to MaineHealth organizations:

  • Staff trainings about patient-centered communication techniques, 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 significant impact on health outcomes and the use of health services. People with low health literacy skills are at risk of the following:

  • Decreased use of preventive services, such as mammograms or colon cancer screenings.
  • More likely to have a chronic condition but less likely to know how to manage it.
  • More likely to go to the hospital or ED.
  • More likely to report poor health status.
  • Increased use of costly health services.

What can you do?

There are many things you can do to help patients understand and use health information. Evidence-based approaches include:

  • Using plain language when communicating with patients and their families.
  • Using teach-back with patients and their families to check for understanding.
  • Completing a health literacy training.

Need a Health Literacy Review?

Contact us to find out how we can help your practice with health literacy. Our services are free to MaineHealth organizations.

Email Ellie

Health literacy class descriptions

Are you interested in learning more about health literacy?  The Education and Training Program offers a variety of classes for MaineHealth staff for free. 

Finding reputable health information online

It’s easy to find health information online - but is it the information you want your patients reading? Come learn how to find and share patient education online. This class will give you the tools to use the internet for reputable & reliable patient education. 

Health numeracy and communicating numbers

Math is hard! Even patients who are well-educated have a hard time understanding and using numbers to manage their health. In this workshop we will share tips and best practices about how to communicate numbers in a clear way so that patients and their caregivers can understand. Participants will explore how large a role numbers play in patient care and learn concrete tips to simplify numbers for patients.


Teach-back is an evidence-based approach to ensuring that you have communicated information to a patient in a way that they can understand and use. Like other forms of patient-centered communication, it takes skill and practice to do well. This workshop will explore the benefits of using teach back and provide opportunities for honing your teach-back skills. 

Writing patient-centered letters

Whether you're welcoming a new patient, giving instructions, or trying to get a patient to keep appointments, what you say and how you say it matters. This brief, hands-on workshop shares plain language writing techniques that will help improve patient understanding and adherence.

Writing patient education materials

Writing material that patients can easily understand and use to manage their health is not as easy as it sounds! This class shares how to use plain language and design principals to deliver effectively-written patient education. Participants will learn how to develop your message, write content, and adhere to MaineHealth brand standards.   

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