What can I do to improve my health literacy?

Health literacy relates to how people access, understand and use health information in ways that benefit their health.

There are lots of ways you can take charge of your health and improve the quality of your health care and your satisfaction with the health services you use.


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Lennox Head local, Rob, shares his story about taking charge of his health.

How to take charge of your health

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Find out as much as you can, using reliable sources. This could be your General Practitioner (GP), pharmacist or other health professional. You can also look for information on the Internet.

In Northern NSW, 2 out of every 5 people aged 15-64 and 1 out of every 5 people aged 65 and older look for health information online.

Looking for reliable information online can help you form questions for and communicate better with your doctor in person.

There are lots of ways to check if online information is reliable:

  • Is it clear who wrote the material? E.g. an evidence-based organisation, or a blog from a consumer.
  • Is the site trying to sell you something?
  • Is the site Australian? Some information from overseas may not be relevant to our health system
  • Is the information up to date?

Here are some reliable websites:

Health direct

An Australian Government website with reliable health information. Look up medicines, check your symptoms and find your closest health service. healthdirect.org.au

Your health link

A NSW Government website with links to the best health information from around Australia. yourhealthlink.health.nsw.gov.au

NPS MedicineWise

Look up reliable information about medicines, print your current medicine list, or download an app to help keep track of medications. nps.org.au

Choosing Wisely

Look up tests, treatments and procedures and read about the benefits and harms of each. choosingwisely.org.au

What information should I keep organised?

It’s important to keep a current list of medications, vitamins and supplements. Review this list regularly with your doctor and pharmacist. Your doctor or pharmacist can also provide you with a copy of your medication list. 

You want to make sure you know:

  • What each medication is for
  • If any new medication will interact with any of your other medications
  • You are not taking any medications for the same reason
  • What side effects you need to look out for and what to do if you have any of these.

You may want to keep a list of allergies or a health summary on you too. This will help if you need to see a doctor urgently that is not your regular doctor.

Keep important contact details on you; on the fridge, in your wallet or stored on your mobile phone. This may be your GP, your emergency contacts or even the person who can look after your pets if you suddenly became ill.


Where can I keep this information?

You can store all of this information on My Health Record.

You can also keep your own records. You could keep copies of test results, and notes of important discussions with your doctor or advice from your nurse or other health professionals. Make notes during your appointments, or record the appointment on your smartphone to listen to later.

My Health Record

This is a secure online summary of your health information. You can control what goes into it, and who is allowed to access it. You can access it at any time, even when you are travelling. myhealthrecord.gov.au

NPS MedicineWise

Look up reliable information about medicines, print your current medicine list, or download an app to help keep track of medications. nps.org.au

Take a support person with you to appointments. This could be a family member, friend or a carer. They can help you ask questions, write notes for you or just be there to support you. If you have a carer, or are a carer, it’s important the person being cared for is involved in decision making and feels confident to ask questions.

Be supported by health services. There may be more services out there to help you than you think. For example, your local community health service may run programs and services such as:

  • Diabetes education
  • Chronic Disease Management
  • Child and Family Counselling
  • Speech Therapy
  • Physiotherapy

Other services can be delivered over the phone and for free, like Get Healthy. 

Ask your GP about services you can access, or use the healthdirect service finder. 

Northern NSW Local Health District

Find out more on the Northern NSW Local Health District website, under Community Health nnswlhd.health.nsw.gov.au

get healthy

Get Healthy

Get Healthy is a free confidential telephone service that can help you to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. nnswlhd.health.nsw.gov.au

Health Direct

Use the service finder on health direct to find telephone counselling and GP services, or telephone advice lines on a range on a range of topics. There are also links to other useful resources, such as the Carer Gateway and My Aged Care. healthdirect.org.au

Asking questions means you get all the information you need to look after yourself at home. You can ask anyone in your health team. It’s OK to ask your health professional to repeat something or explain it in a different way; they are there to help you.

Here are a few tools to help you form questions.

Health Literacy Northers NSW

Let’s PLAN for better care

This resource gives you useful advice for what to think about before your next health care appointment, questions you can ask and space to write answers. Contact the Health Literacy Officer if you would like to order copies of this resource on tear-off pads for your service. Contact us

Question Builder

This is a free web-based tool to help you prepare for your medical appointment and make the best use of the time with your doctor. healthdirect.gov.au

Ask Share Know

Three questions to ask your doctor when you have to make a decision about your health. It could be a choice between tests or procedures, or to get more information about a diagnosis and what you have to do next. askshareknow.com.au

It’s your health. You will be more satisfied with your care if you help decide what is best for you. It’s ok for your family, friends and carers to be involved and ask questions too.

Being informed, organised and supported and asking questions about your health means you can be better involved in the decision-making process.

You may hear health professionals refer to ‘Shared Decision Making’. It means consumers and health professionals working together. It means you have the right to be fully informed about your options and make decisions about your health care. It means health professionals provide you with information based on evidence. This includes the possible benefits and harms of each option. They then support you to go ahead with the option that most suits your goals, preferences, and values.

You should be involved in making all health care decisions. However, it’s especially important when considering:

  • major health care decisions (such as cancer treatment)
  • screening and other types of testing
  • self-management support for long-term conditions (such as organising home support or developing an Action Plan).

Decision making at end of life

You should sit down with loved ones and talk about what’s important to you. If, in the future, you can no longer make health decisions for yourself, someone needs to be able to make decisions for you that you would want.

You can make an Advance Care Directive and choose a substitute decision maker who can speak for you. This means your end-of-life care will fit with your wishes and your family and friends know that you are getting the care you would want.

The best way to improve the health services that you use is to give feedback and have a say in how the services run.

You could be a consumer representative on a committee, a volunteer or a patient advocate.

Ask your local health service or organisation how you can be involved. Be informed of opportunities to be involved in Northern NSW by visiting this page.

Offering feedback, both good and bad, helps health services and organisations know what they are doing well and what needs to be improved. Each service will have a different method for doing this, but staff will be able to help you or you can check their website.

You can also be involved in the Health Literacy Project. You can contact the Health Literacy Project Officer to find out how.

JargonPlain Language
Pre-opBefore surgery
ECGElectrical picture of your heart
PRNWhen needed
SupineOn back
Discharge planningMaking a plan to get out of hospital
FastDo not eat during this time
SatsOxygen in blood
PathologySomething is not working right
Verbal comprehensionUnderstanding what other people are saying
FebrileHigh temperature
GaitWalking pattern
BilateralBoth sides
AbstainDon’t do
UF goalHow much fluid we want to take off
Primary health assessmentHealth check with GP
ProphylacticTo prevent
QID4 times a day
PivotChanging from an old strategy
AF(atrial fibrillation) Heart flutter/irregular heart rate
Nil by mouthNothing to eat or drink
Upper limbsArms
DyspnoeaShortness of breath
AnalgesiaPain relief

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