Health Literacy

Health literacy is an important aspect of culturally competent healthcare. How a patient understands and uses health information is directly tied to his or her cultural attitudes and beliefs. The patient’s health literacy can be affected not only by cultural beliefs, but also by low educational level and limited English proficiency The culturally competent healthcare professional must not only respect the patient’s culture and beliefs, but also his or her ability to understand the health information being provided. Health professionals incorporate health literacy principles into their practices, programs and policies as a means of reducing health disparities and increasing positive health outcomes.

The nation’s first academically-based health literacy center, the Herschel S. Horowitz Center for Health Literacy, was established at the University of Maryland School of Public Health in Fall 2007. The Center conducts interdisciplinary research in health communication and health literacy, and translates that research into education and community action.

The following links provide additional resources pertaining to health literacy and cultural competency:

Portals to additional health literacy and cultural competency research and resources:

Key publications in health literacy and cultural competency:

Patient education resources for health care professionals:

  • World Education, funded by the National Institute for Literacy, developed a Health and Literacy Special Collection, archiving print and Web-based health materials for use with limited-literacy populations. The Collection includes a tutorial on health literacy and a guide to easy-to-read health materials and web sites.
  • Free on-line training is available from the Health Resources and Services Administration for healthcare professionals that will improve communication skills with patients, increase knowledge and awareness of health literacy and cultural competency, and provide information on how to appropriately address patients with limited English proficiency.
  • The Health Literacy and Cultural Competency Provider Toolkit is offered by BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee and it provides healthcare professionals with resources to help them manage patient’s with differing levels of health literacy.
  • The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association has developed a web-based module on ways to make written information more readable, “Communicating With Patients and Families: Developing Clear Written Information
  • The More Than Words Toolkit Series is a resource for clarifying the translation process and providing a roadmap to help health care organizations improve the quality of their translated materials in order to get better results.
  • Health Literacy for Public Health Professionals is the online course offered by CDC, which introduces participants to the fundamentals of health literacy and demonstrate the importance of health literacy within public health practice.

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