What is Health Literacy?

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Health literacy is about how people understand information about health and health care, and how they apply that information to their lives. It’s important because it shapes people’s health, safety, and quality of care.

Improving health communication can improve health outcomes.


In 2014, the Australian government released the National Statement on Health Literacy. This urged people to take action on health literacy by:

  • Embedding health literacy into programs
  • Ensuring effective communication
  • Integrating health literacy into education

It explains that in order for people and health care teams to work together for better health, everyone needs to be able to give and receive, interpret and act on information such as treatment options and plans. When we get this right, we can begin to improve the safety and quality of health care, and even reduce health disparities and increase equity.

What does health literacy look like?

Individual health Literacy

The skills, knowledge, motivation and capacity of a person to access, understand, appraise and apply information to make effective decisions about health and health care and take appropriate action.

Organisational health literacy

The infrastructure, policies, processes, materials and people that make up the health system and have an impact on the way that people access, understand, appraise and apply health-related information and services.

Approximately 60% of Australian adults have a low level of health literacy. 40 – 80% of the medical information people receive is forgotten immediately.

Research tells us that by improving organisational health literacy and the way we communicate, we can make an impact on:

  • People’s quality of life and long term health outcomes
  • People’s health care experience
  • People’s satisfaction with health services
  • Health care costs
  • The quality and safety of health care

This project is working to improve the way we communicate in three main areas:

  • The places where health care is provided. This includes making sure places are easy to find and get to, and that once you arrive it is clear where you need to go.
  • The people who provide health care. This includes all staff at a health service, like doctors and nurses, allied health and even the people who greet you at the front desk.
  • Health information that makes sense. This includes any written information, like brochures and fact sheets, posters, websites and letters.

Contact the Health Literacy Team to learn more about health literacy, or to book a health literacy workshop for your service or community group. This is available for people in Northern NSW, from Grafton to Tweed.

How can staff working in health facilities help with health literacy?