Health Literacy

What is health literacy?

Healthy People 2030 defines personal health literacy and organizational health literacy as:

Literacy image thoughts questions  Personal health literacy is 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.
Organizational health literacy is the degree to which organizations equitably enable individuals to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.


Why does this matter?

People with high health literacy skill are more likely to:

  • Have improved health outcomes
  • Increase the use of preventive health care
  • Lower unneeded emergency room visits
  • Lower preventable stays in the hospital and readmissions
  • Lower medication dosing errors
  • Better manage their chronic conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, and HIV/AIDS
health literacy can help


People with low health literacy skills are more likely to:
  • Have poor health outcomes, including hospital stays and emergency room visits
  • Skip preventive services, like flu shots and cancer screenings
  • Make medication errors, or have trouble following their treatment plan
  • Have trouble managing chronic diseases
  • Have higher mortality rates
blue health literacy

The National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy highlights certain populations that are most likely to experience limited health literacy:

  • Adults over the age of 65 years
  • Racial and ethnic groups other than White
  • Recent refugees and immigrants
  • People with less than a high school degree or GED
  • People with incomes at or below the poverty level
  • Non-native speakers of English

There are many factors that can affect personal health literacy including:

  • Understanding medical terms or how their body works
  • Being able to find health information
  • Understanding information to evaluate risks and benefits that affect their health and safety
  • Having a  diagnosis of a serious illness and are scared and confused
  • Having health conditions that require complicated self-care
  • Having limited literacy skills
true or fals
factors no border

Literacy in Niagara County

Over 36,000 adults in Niagara County lack basic literacy skills. Research has shown a connection with low literacy levels, poor health outcomes, and chronic conditions, including diabetes and cancer. Individuals with limited literacy face additional difficulties following medication instructions, communicating with health care providers, and obtaining health information.


Resources for people with lower literacy skills:

Education and tutoring can help address some factors that contribute to low health literacy. There are several agencies that prove literacy services including:

How can your organization address health literacy?

When people understand health information, they can make well-informed health decisions. Organizations can ensure they are communicating clearly by using health literacy universal precautions and best practices. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) health literacy universal precautions toolkit provides twenty-one tools to help reduce the complexity of health care.

 Tools includes:

  1. Welcome Patients to create a friendly and supportive environment
  2. Communicate Clearly using plain language in verbal and written communication
  3. Use the Teach-back Method to check for understanding
  4. Make referral easy to increase the patients chances they will follow through

Create policies and procedures to promote a health literate organization. This is an important key to address health literacy as your organization plays a fundamental role in connecting people with health information.   

ways to reduce

 Watch this short video from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for proven strategies to make health information and services easier to find, understand, and use in your organization 5 Things to Know About Health Literacy

Benefits to your organization

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, 3 to 5 percent of total yearly healthcare costs is due to limited health literacy. They estimate national health literacy efforts could have the potential to save $120 to $200 billion in healthcare costs each year. Promoting health literacy skills can potential lower healthcare spending in all areas.

The benefits of promoting health literacy include:

  • Lower healthcare costs
  • Decreased hospital readmissions
  • Improved patient experience and satisfaction
  • Decreased legal risk and liability

Other links:

Literacy Buffalo Niagara:

Buffalo News article: Another voice: Health literacy is an urgent issue for many Western New Yorkers, September 24, 2023.

CDC free online health literacy courses for health professional

Health Literacy Out Loud (HLOL) podcasts

Health Literacy Solutions Center online health literacy trainings

What is Health Literacy

Readability plain language stick figure