HomeBlog What is Health Literacy and Why is it Important?

What is Health Literacy and Why is it Important?

October 2, 2023

Our Health Literacy Month newsletter series is focused on helping individuals find and understand information regarding their health. The series will consist of four articles, which will be released once a week throughout the month of October. Each article will cover different aspects of health literacy, offering helpful tips and information to encourage readers to protect their health and better manage health problems when they arise.

There is nothing of greater importance than our health and well-being, and with that comes health literacy. While it’s a name that not many are familiar with, it’s a concept that is essential for maintaining our health and wellness for the long term.

What is health literacy? To put it simply, it’s the ability of one to be able to find, understand, and use health services. This is not only important in managing any preexisting conditions but also in preventing them and maintaining optimal health throughout the lifespan [1].

While it may seem straightforward, well-educated individuals may experience challenges with health literacy. For example, individuals who are not familiar with common medical terms, the anatomy and physiology of our body and its functions, or who may be experiencing high levels of stress or anxiety because of a complicated or serious medical condition may find navigating health literacy to be overwhelming.

Unfortunately, those who struggle with health literacy are more prone to adverse health outcomes, including an increased risk of developing preventable health conditions due to missed screenings and evaluations, experiencing poor disease management, using improper medication dosing, and more.

According to the Institute of Medicine, health literacy contains 4 pillars, cultural and conceptual knowledge, print health literacy (writing and reading skills), oral health literacy (listening and speaking), and numeracy [2].


The key to successful health literacy often lies within our healthcare system. Creating informative tools and education that are easy for the community to understand and interpret, taking into consideration cultural and linguistic norms.

This means including clear communication that encompasses all individuals despite education level. This can be done by incorporating plain language and visual aids such as models, pictures, or videos, and providing explicit instructions [3].

Digital health literacy should also be taken into consideration technological advances can create a wedge between certain populations and healthcare information access. Website, app, and portals should be made easy and simple to access with available technical support for those who need it. There should also be options for those who do not have personal devices to access the same information in other forms [3].

If you work in healthcare or are simply a caregiver for a family member or friend, be sure to promote their health literacy by empowering them to learn and practice navigating the different pillars of health literacy. Provide support and explanations in simple terms, using graphics and pictures when needed and walking them through areas they are having difficulty with.

You can also practice your health literacy by becoming familiar with different areas you may be lacking knowledge. Ask questions and use the resources available to you or ask your friends and family members for resources or guidance as needed.

If you are having challenges with health literacy, you aren’t alone. While it can be frustrating, your health and well-being are important. Consider the following resources available at health.gov for more information.