Health Literacy in America: Addressing the Gap

Health Literacy in America: Addressing the Gap

April 14, 2023

What is Health Literacy?

According to Healthy People 2030, health literacy is defined as the “degree to which individuals have the ability to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.” In other words, health literacy is the ability of individuals to understand and use health information effectively to make informed decisions about their health.

Health literacy is a critical component of good health. It refers to a person’s ability to understand and use health information to make informed decisions about their health. Unfortunately, studies show that many Americans struggle with health literacy, which can lead to poor health outcomes, increased healthcare costs, and reduced quality of life. However, the good news is that there are many steps that individuals can take to improve their health literacy skills. But two core principles should drive any initiative to help improve a person’s health literacy.

  • All people have the right to health information that helps them make informed decisions.
  • Health services should be delivered in ways that are easy to understand and that improve health, longevity, and quality of life.

In this post, we’ll explore tips and strategies for understanding health information, communicating with healthcare providers, navigating the healthcare system, improving digital health literacy, and using plain language in health communication. By the end of this post, you’ll be equipped with the knowledge and tools you need to take control of your health and make informed decisions about your healthcare.

Understanding Health Information

One of the biggest challenges of health literacy is understanding health information. Medical jargon can be confusing, and it can be challenging to understand complex health information. However, it’s important to have a clear understanding of your health conditions, medications, and treatment options, so you can make informed decisions about your health. Here are some tips for understanding health information:

Tip 1: Learn Medical Terminology
One way to improve your understanding of health information is to learn medical terminology. This can help you better understand your doctor’s diagnosis, treatment options, and prescriptions. You can start by researching common medical terms online or ask your healthcare provider to explain unfamiliar terms during your appointment.

Tip 2: Ask Questions
Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand something your healthcare provider is saying. It’s their job to ensure that you have a clear understanding of your health condition and treatment options. Make a list of questions before your appointment and bring it with you to ensure that you don’t forget anything important.

Tip 3: Evaluate Health Information Online
The internet is a valuable resource for health information, but not all online sources are trustworthy. It’s essential to evaluate health information online critically. Look for sources that are reputable, unbiased, and evidence-based. For example, websites that end in “.gov” or “.edu” are generally more reliable than “.com” websites.

Improving your understanding of health information is essential for making informed decisions about your health. By learning medical terminology, asking questions, and evaluating health information online, you can build your health literacy skills and become a more informed patient. Keep learning about health literacy to empower yourself to take control of your health.

Communicating with Healthcare Providers

Effective communication with healthcare providers is essential for good health outcomes. It’s important to be able to ask questions, share concerns, and provide feedback to your doctor or other healthcare providers. Here are some tips for communicating effectively:

Before your appointment, make a list of questions or concerns you have about your health. Bring a notebook or use a note-taking app to jot down information during your appointment. This can help you stay organized and ensure that you get the information you need.

It’s important to be honest and open with your healthcare provider. Share any symptoms you’re experiencing, even if you’re embarrassed or uncomfortable. Be honest about any medications you’re taking, including over-the-counter and herbal remedies. This can help your healthcare provider make an accurate diagnosis and provide appropriate treatment.

If your healthcare provider uses medical jargon or terminology you don’t understand, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification. This can help you better understand your diagnosis, treatment options, and medication instructions.

Effective communication with healthcare providers is critical for good health outcomes. By being prepared for your appointment, being honest and open, and asking for clarification, you can improve your communication skills and build a strong relationship with your healthcare provider. For more information on communicating with healthcare providers, visit this article from the National Institute of Health.

Navigating the Healthcare System

Navigating the healthcare system can be a daunting task, even for those who are well-informed about their health. Here are some tips for improving your health literacy and navigating the healthcare system:

Understanding your health insurance is essential to navigating the healthcare system. Make sure you understand the basics of your health insurance plan, such as your deductible, copay, and coinsurance. You should also be aware of any restrictions on your plan, such as networks or pre-authorization requirements.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions when visiting healthcare providers. Make sure you understand any medical terminology used during your visit, and ask for explanations if you don’t. You should also ask your healthcare provider about any tests or treatments they recommend, and what the benefits and risks of those recommendations are.

Keeping track of your health information can help you make informed decisions about your health. Keep a record of your medical history, including any allergies, medications, and chronic conditions. You should also keep track of any tests or procedures you’ve had, as well as their results.

Improving Digital Health Literacy

In today’s digital age, it’s easy to search for health information online. However, not all information is reliable or accurate. To improve your health literacy, it’s important to use reliable sources of health information. Here are some tips for finding accurate health information online:

When searching for health information online, make sure to use trusted websites such as government websites or websites from reputable organizations. Examples of such websites include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Before trusting any health information you find online, check the source of the information. Find information from medical professionals, healthcare organizations, or other credible sources. Look for websites that cite their sources and provide references. You can also check for the author’s credentials and any conflicts of interest they may have. Plus, be wary of websites that are trying to sell products or promote a specific agenda.

Make sure to check the date of any health information you find online. Medical knowledge is constantly evolving, and information that was accurate in the past may no longer be true. Make sure to look for up-to-date information from trusted sources.

By using reliable sources of health information, you can improve your health literacy and make informed decisions about your health. For more reliable tips on how to evaluate health info on the internet visit this article on the NIH website.

If everyone took steps to improve their health literacy over the next 20-30 years, we could see significant improvements in health outcomes, reduced healthcare costs, improved health equity, improved public health, and a higher quality of life for individuals and communities.

It is difficult to provide an exact estimate of how much healthcare costs could be reduced with improved health literacy, as the impact of health literacy on healthcare costs is influenced by a variety of factors, such as the population being served and the types of healthcare services being provided. But, in one study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, it was estimated that low health literacy was associated with an additional $106 to $238 billion in healthcare costs annually in the United States. Improving health literacy has the potential to reduce these costs by improving healthcare efficiency and effectiveness, reducing healthcare utilization, and improving health outcomes.

In conclusion, improving your health literacy can have a significant impact on your overall health and well-being. By understanding medical terminology, navigating the healthcare system, and being able to read and comprehend health information, you can make informed decisions about your health and communicate effectively with healthcare providers.

Remember, improving your health literacy is an ongoing process that requires time and effort. By utilizing the resources and strategies outlined in this article, you can take proactive steps to improve your health literacy and ultimately improve your health outcomes.

We encourage you to continue learning about health literacy and its importance in healthcare. Check out the links below for more information and resources:

Together, we can work towards a more health literate society, where everyone has access to and understands health information to make informed decisions about their health.


We have decades of combined experience in primary care! Whether you have a cold or just need a checkup, we’re here for you!

Convenient communication, call or text.
Primary Care: (904) 513-3240
Pain Management: (904) 206-7132

© 2022 Emed Multispecialty Group. All rights reserved.