Community services and workers provide essential support to people who face high demands on their health literacy. The term “health literacy” might be new to you, but practices that support health literacy may be very familiar. These include:
Running health improvement programs, like nutrition and cooking workshops, exercise programs and falls prevention activities
Running information sessions on health topics
Helping people make and get to appointments
Helping people to fill in forms
Helping people to manage their health and medications
Helping people to navigate health and social care systems
You can help service users to improve their health literacy by encouraging them to:
Encourage them to find out as much as they can about their health and available treatments and service, using reliable sources. This could be a General Practitioner (GP), pharmacist or other health professional.
Help them understand any medical terms used. You could use this list, which explains medical terms simply.
Encourage them to use reliable online information as well. You can find out more about how to find good, reliable health information on our Finding good health information page.
An Australian Government website with reliable health information. Look up medicines, check symptoms and find the closest health service.
Health Direct also includes a 24-hour telephone health advice line that operates seven days a week – 1800 022 222. It is staffed by registered nurses. You can call for advice if a client is feeling ill and is unsure what to do, or for health information on a specific condition.
It’s important to keep an up to date list of medications, vitamins and supplements, allergies and a health summary. This will help if your client needs an ambulance or doctor urgently.
Encourage them to keep all their current medical information together so that it is easy to find. This includes things like referrals, prescriptions, test results, scans and x-rays. It is also important that out of date information is removed and either thrown away or stored separately.
Prescriptions for medications they no longer use should be clearly marked as not current. Any unused medication can be safely disposed of by returning it to a pharmacist. This is a free service.
Keep important contact details handy – on the fridge, or near a phone. This may be a GP, emergency contacts or neighbours.
Encourage them to use a daily medication list – you can find some examples of good ones here.
Encourage your client to be clear about why they are seeing a doctor or other health professional, why they are having a test, and what they need to do to prepare properly for the test.
It can help to work out and write down what their symptoms are and any recent changes. They can take any records they have of tests or diagnoses from other medical practitioners – not all health services use the digital health record, and it may not be up to date.
You can suggest or help them to collect this information in a folder that they can take to the appointment – with a list of important information and questions on a single page at the front. They can give the list to the doctor to help make sure they cover all the important issues.
Three questions to ask when someone has to make a decision about their health. It could be a choice between tests or procedures, or to get more information about a diagnosis and what to do next.
5 Questions to ask before a test or treatment
Choosing Wisely Australia recommends asking 5 questions before agreeing to any test or treatment. Some tests, treatments, and procedures don’t always provide much benefit and in some cases they can even cause harm.
Asking these 5 questions can help make sure your client ends up with the right care.
Do I really need this test or procedure?
What are the risks?
Are there simpler or safer options?
What happens if I don’t do anything?
What are the costs?
You can find these questions in other languages here.
Encourage your client to take a support person to appointments. This could be a family member, friend, or a carer.
They can provide encouragement to ask questions, write notes and help remember what was discussed and what the next steps are, be an advocate if needed, or just be there for emotional support. Depending on your role, you might attend appointments with a client as a support person or advocate.
There may be more services or groups that can help. Consumer groups and specialist organisations can provide information and support. For example:
Teach back is a technique that can be used to check that your client has understood information you have given them. It is widely promoted for use in health settings, but it is a method that can be used in any setting and for any information.
Building self efficacy
HCCA offers a training course that provides community workers with skills and strategies to support health literacy – so that service users can access health services, make decisions and manage health issues. The training builds on the experience and knowledge that workers already have to also:
Increase community workers’ knowledge of how the health system works in the ACT, and
Increase community workers’ own health literacy skills and confidence.