Health literacy and patient care

"Nothing — not age, income, employment status, educational level, and racial or ethnic group — affects health status more than literacy skills."
—National Patient Safety Foundation

"Health literacy" is the ability to understand and act on health information. Unfortunately, nearly half of the U.S. adult population has a low level of health literacy. Those with low health literacy:

  • Are less likely to follow treatment instructions and seek preventive care
  • Are also twice as likely to be hospitalized

Legacy Health, a nonprofit, locally owned organization, is working to improve health literacy, so that we can provide even better care and help patients take care of themselves, while helping lower health care costs and reduce emergency room visits.

A call for health literacy communication

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published "The National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy" as a call to action across the nation. In the fall of 2010, Legacy established the health literacy initiative.

Our health literacy initiative is becoming a part of our culture as nearly every department affects patient care.

Legacy's employees will discover and practice new ways of communicating with patients, such as:

  • Universal precautions: Use health literacy communication tools with everyone
  • Plain language: Using one- to two-syllable words and short sentences, as in a conversation at home
  • Teach back: Asking patients to explain in their own words or show what they have been advised to do
  • Ask questions: What questions do you have? 

For more examples and further information about health literacy, watch this video from the American Medical Association on YouTube.

Health literacy resources