Health literacy: An important issue for communicating health information to patients

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


"Health literacy" refers to an individual's ability to read, understand, and use the information necessary to obtain adequate health care. Because so much health-related information is provided to patients in written form, some degree of health literacy is essential. A review of the international medical and education literature was conducted to identify research on health literacy. Limited health literacy is a widespread problem in both non-industrialized and industrialized nations, and it is mostly related to deficient reading skills. Deficient reading skills are most prevalent among those with a limited educational back-ground, but considerable research shows that limited reading skills exist even among those who have completed a formal education. Risk factors for limited literacy include poverty, membership in an ethnic minority group, advanced age, and other sociodemographic characteristics. Limited health literacy highly associated with poor health status, and literacy skills more accurately predict health status than education level, income, ethnic background, or any other sociodemographic variable. Individuals with limited literacy have higher rates of illness and more hospitalizations than individuals with more well-developed reading skills. Considerable effort has been directed at creating special health education materials for communicating with patients who have limited reading skills, but there is minimal evidence that these interventions have any effect on the health status of these individuals. In conclusion, poor health literacy is a common problem with important implications for health status. Limited data are available about how to best address the needs of patients with limited literacy skills.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)603-608
Number of pages6
JournalChinese Medical Journal (Taipei)
Issue number11
StatePublished - Dec 1 2001


  • Illiteracy
  • Patient education
  • Physician-patient communication

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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