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:
- The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality webpage on Health Literacy and Cultural Competency includes a listing of information products and research findings specific to health literacy and cultural and linguistic competency.
- Information, research findings and curricula for health professionals is available from Harvard University School of Public Health’s Health Literacy Studies, part of the National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy.
- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides links to tools for improving health literacy, government resources, and reports and research on health literacy.
- The National Institutes of Health has collected information and resources on cultural competency as part of their Clear Communication health literacy initiative.
Key publications in health literacy and cultural competency:
- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health has published National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health and Health Care (the National CLAS Standards).
- Healthy People 2020 includes a number of objectives related to improving health literacy through better health communication and meaningful use of health information technology.
- The Institute of Medicine’s Roundtable on Health Literacy website archives past Roundtable meetings often including leading research and presentations on health literacy. It also provides a link to the 2004 IOM Report, Health Literacy: A Prescription to End Confusion. This book includes a chapter on “Culture and Society”, discussing health literacy in the context of cultural diversity in the U.S.
- In 2004, the National Library of Medicine conducted a comprehensive literature search of research studies in health literacy. A number of citations on “cultural considerations” related to health literacy and its barriers were included in this bibliography.
- The National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) provides the latest data on the status of health literacy in the United States, including the report The Health Literacy of America’s Adults: Results from the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy.
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.