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Health Literacy Information

Health Literacy Overview

The following materials provide background and information about the health literacy problem in the United States, and recent efforts to address this issue.

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services- Quick Guide to Health Literacy

The Quick Guide to Health Literacy is for government employees, grantees and contractors, and community partners working in healthcare and public health fields.  It contains:

  • A basic overview of key health literacy concepts
  • Techniques for improving health literacy through communication, navigation, knowledge-building, and advocacy
  • Examples of health literacy best practices
  • Suggestions for addressing health literacy in your organization

“What did the doctor say?”: Improving Health Literacy to Protect Patient Safety – Joint Commission

  • Launched in 2001, this initiative seeks to address issues that have the potential to seriously undermine the provision of safe, high-quality health care and the health of the American people.  This Joint Commission Public Policy initiative includes recommendations and applications of standards for effective communication with patients.

Directory of Plain Language Health Information

  • Funded by the National Literacy Secretariat, the purpose of the Directory is to help health professionals locate excellent examples of plain language health information on a variety of subjects. A list of 375 titles from 50 organizations is presented. As well, the Introduction tells readers how and why we chose the resources that are listed. The Appendices provide basic plain language and clear design tips.

Health Literacy Beyond Basic Skills

  • This report discusses whether people with higher educational attainment may have a health advantage due to increased health literacy skills.  Components of an effective health literacy system are an information dissemination system with readable, culturally sensitive materials; coordinated health literacy learning system; measurement and assessment system; formal and informal health advice system; and professional health provider learning system.

Federal Plain Language Guidelines

  • Developed by federal employees in the 1990s, these guidelines offer strategies for communicating with the public in plain, understandable language.

Literacy and Health in America

  • This report seeks to illuminate the relationship between literacy and health using data from large-scale surveys of adult literacy--the National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS) and the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS)--conducted by Educational Testing Service for the U.S. Department of Education. Included in these assessments were a variety of health-related materials on topics such as drugs and alcohol, disease prevention and treatment, safety and accident prevention, first aid, emergencies, and staying healthy.

Health Literacy Links

Health Literacy and Learning Program (HeLP) at Northwestern University 

  • The mission of this program is to advance the study of limited health literacy and interventions that could improve one’s ability to obtain, process, and understand basic information needed to make appropriate health decisions. This is a groundbreaking effort; Northwestern is the first institution in the country to link the fields of medicine and education in order to improve how health systems educate patients and families on their health. In a reciprocal manner, this Health Literacy and Learning Program (HeLP) envisions opportunities to better inform curriculum in schools and other informal learning settings on health promotion and empowerment.

Health Literacy Studies, Harvard School of Public Health 

  • Health Literacy Studies is located in the Department of Society, Human Development, and Health at the Harvard School of Public Health and is part of the National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy, with Dr. Rima Rudd as Principal Investigator.   This site is designed for professionals in health and education who are interested in health literacy. It contains materials you may find useful for your work.

How to Create and Assess Health Literate Materials

Pfizer Principles for Clear Health Communication

  • In conjunction with health literacy experts, Pfizer has developed the Principles for Clear Health Communication - guidelines for creating high-quality patient education materials that are easy to read and understand.  Committed to supporting patients and providers by producing materials that are understandable and accessible to a broad consumer audience, Pfizer offers best practices and training to organizations in order to facilitate the development of easy-to-read health care materials for their diverse patient populations.

Scientific and Technical Information: Simply Put

  • Surveys have shown that nearly half of American adults read at basic levels, and that one in five adults in the United States reads below a fifth grade level.   This guide will help you translate the complicated scientific and technical information generated at CDC into material that captures and keeps the interest of your intended readers.  It will teach you how to write simply, use language and visuals that your audience relates to and understands, and organize the information so it’s easy to act on and recall.

Teaching Patients with Low Literacy Skills – Doak and Doak

  • This practical text guides the reader in developing the necessary tools for teaching those patients with limited literacy skills. It provides proven strategies for evaluating comprehension and teaching patients using written materials, tapes, video, computer aided instruction, visuals, and graphics. An abundance of case studies helps to demonstrate the application of teaching/learning theory to actual practice. Readers will also explore literacy issues in health care as well as the cultural impact on comprehension.

Beyond the Brochure: Alternative Approaches to Effective Health Communication

  • This guidebook addresses issues that commonly arise when public health programs seek to reach low literate and oral culture populations. 

Guidelines for the Presentation of Quality Information for Rehabilitation Programs

  • This booklet provides guidelines for staff at rehabilitation programs as they develop material for presenting quality information to the public. The guidelines are based on best practices from the emerging field of health literacy.

Web Accessibility

Accessible Information Technology: Implications for Information Dissemination - Robin Jones

  • Guidelines for making information technology accessible to all users.

Great Lakes ADA Center (Americans with Disabilities Act) 

  • The DBTAC: Great Lakes ADA Center provides information, materials, technical assistance and training on the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA ). Topics addressed includes the non-discrimination requirements in employment, the obligations of state and local governments and business to ensure that programs, services and activities are readily accessible to and useable by people with disabilities. This includes access to the information technology used by these entities including but not limited to websites, software, kiosks, etc.  The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research has established a network of 10 regional Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers. 

WAVE Website Evaluation Tool 

  • WAVE is a free web accessibility evaluation tool provided by WebAIM. It is used to aid humans in the web accessibility evaluation process. Rather than providing a complex technical report, WAVE shows the original web page with embedded icons and indicators that reveal the accessibility information within your page.

Functional Accessibility Evaluator Website Evaluation Tool

  • The Functional Accessibility Evaluator (FAE) analyzes web resources for markup that is consistent with the use of Best Practices for development of functionally accessible web resources that also support interoperability.

How to promote a health literate environment

The Health Literacy Environment of Hospitals and Health Centers

  • The guide and the review tools found within this document offer an approach for analyzing literacy-related barriers to healthcare access and navigation. This guide was designed to assist chief executive officers, presidents, program directors, administrators, and healthcare workers at hospitals or health centers to consider the health literacy environment of their healthcare facilities and to analyze ways to reduce demands, to better serve their patients and staff and ultimately to increase revenue.

Consumer Guidelines

Choosing a High-Quality Medical Rehabilitation Program: An NRH Field Guide for People with Disabilities

  • The goal of this guidebook is to help you to choose a high-quality rehabilitation program. It includes four major parts. Part 1 describes medical rehabilitation—what it is, how it can help you, and the different rehabilitation professionals who will work with you. Part 2 discusses health insurance plans so that you can understand what your plan will and will not cover. Part 3 talks about the different types of rehabilitation programs available to you, and Part 4 looks at ways that can help you find a high-quality rehabilitation program to suit your needs.