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What is Health Literacy? Why does it matter?

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What is Health literacy?

Health literacy fundamentally refers to the personal characteristics and social resources needed for individuals and communities to access, understand, appraise and use information and services to make decisions about health. It also includes the capacity to communicate, assert and enact these decisions.

The concept of health literacy refers to possessing the necessary information, comprehension, self-assurance, and skills to deal with the complicated requirements of contemporary healthcare. Delivering person-centred care requires addressing people's health literacy requirements and communicating in relevant ways. Additionally, it enhances the safety and efficacy of care and aids in addressing health disparities.

Personal health literacy is the degree to which people can locate, comprehend, and use information and services to assist in making decisions and taking activities connected to their own and other people's health. It can be categorised by: 

  • Functional - able to read basic health information
  • Critical - able to evaluate health information
  • Interactive able to apply the information*

Organizational health literacy is the degree to which organizations equitably enable individuals to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.

What does this mean for patients?

Health literacy plays a key role in empowerment by enhancing people's access to and ability to use health information. Research shows that:

  • more than 4 in 10 adults struggle with health content for the public
  • more than 6 in 10 adults struggle with health content that includes numbers and statistics

This is because a lot of health content is written, often unintentionally, for people with higher health literacy skills. 

Nearly half the adults in England (43%) struggle to read and understand health information, when this includes words and numbers it rises to 61%**.  This can mean that important details, such as how to take medicines and dosage, or understanding appointment letters and test results can be misinterpreted or missed – and not everyone feels confident to say when they don’t understand, resulting in issues. 

Health Literacy - Eolas Medical

To give you examples of health literacy cause issues for patients: 

  • a woman who sprayed her inhaler on her neck because she had been told to spray it on her "throat"
  • a man who did not turn up for cancer tests because he did not know Radiology and X-ray department were the same thing
  • a man with diabetes who decided to stop taking his medicine because he had trouble understanding the instructions
  • a woman who thought chemotherapy would not help because it was given into a vein on the other side of the body to where her cancer was ****

Why does eHealth even matter?

if the aforementioned list of issues doesn't highlight a concern, low health literacy has also been linked to a range of important problems. These include:

  • Unhealthy lifestyles and poor general health
  • Low use of preventative services, like vaccinations and screening
  • Difficulty taking medicines correctly
  • Increased A&E attendance and hospital admissions
  • Reduced life expectancy****

Health Literacy - Eolas Medical

It's estimated that health literacy-related problems like these account for up to 5% of national health spending. Health literacy is also a health inequality issue, with close links between socio-economic deprivation and low health literacy. By addressing health literacy it can help to

  • Improved understanding of medication information, instruction and adherence
  • Reduced risk of serious health problems resulting from misunderstanding and communication
  • Reduced re-admissions and repeat appointments
  • Reduced health inequalities

Technology and health literacy:

This is where technology can play a part in supporting our communities to address health literacy. Did you know 83.40% of the world's population has a Smart Phone which is 7.26 billion people***.  All of whom could have information shared with them in an appropriate, understandable and safe format. Such as Patient Information Leaflets in different formats of languages, text sizes or even links to an audio descriptive version of the information.

Health Literacy - Eolas Medical

Information management is the key aim of our Apps and it isn't just about Department and Hospital-wide Clinical Guidelines, Rota's and Department Contact details (to name but a few).

Our Apps also generate a QR Code that can be shared with patients and families via a mobile device, giving them instant access to information such as Patient Information Leaflets, Audio Guides and even web links to official information and videos

Doctors and Nurses could have access to information that can then be easily shared anytime, anywhere via a mobile phone app instantly with their patients. One of the many ways Eolas Medical is helping organise the world's medical information to make healthcare simpler, safer and smarter! 

For more information please check out:

To discuss our App's or book a Demo for your Hospital or Department: Email


* Nutbeam D. Health literacy as a public health goal: a challenge for contemporary health education and communication strategies into the 21st century. Health Promot Int. 2000;15:259–67