How can I support the health literacy of clients?

How can I support the health literacy of clients?

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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.

Some trusted health websites include:

Health Direct website

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.

MyDr website

Provides reliable health information on symptoms, diseases, tests, investigations, medicines and treatments. Also provides health tools and calculators.

Your Health Link website

A NSW Government website with links to the best health information from around Australia.

NPS MedicineWise website

Look up reliable information about medicines, print your current medicine list, or download an app to help keep track of medications.

Choosing Wisely website

Look up tests, treatments and procedures and read about the benefits and harms of each.

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.

NPS MedicineWise website 

Look up reliable information about medicines, print a current medicine list, or download an app to help keep track of medications

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.

Encouraging clients to ask questions when they see a doctor or other health provider means they can get the information they need, and helps you to give them the right support and assistance.

There are lots of tools that help people ask health questions, and record the answers.

Question Builder tool

This is a free web-based tool to help prepare for a medical appointment and make the best use of the time with the doctor.


Ask Me Three

Three questions to ask a doctor at every appointment. Encourage your client to write down the answers so they can share the right information with family or carers.


Ask Share Know 

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.

  1. Do I really need this test or procedure?
  2. What are the risks?
  3. Are there simpler or safer options?
  4. What happens if I don’t do anything?
  5. 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:

  • Carers ACT
  • COTA – Council of The Ageing ACT
  • SHOUT ACT – SHOUT supports people to find self-help organisations and groups.
  • ADACAS – The A.C.T. Disability, Aged and Carer Advocacy Service (ADACAS), is an independent, not-for-profit, advocacy organisation helping people with disabilities, older people and carers.

Find a Health Service To help find a health or allied health service in the ACT.

Healthy Living is an ACT Government website that has information on healthy living, activities and programs in Canberra.

There are many evidence-based tools and strategies that you can use to support health literacy when working with clients. Some of these include:

  • Motivational interviewing
  • 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 and supporting self management.


HCCA offers training 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.

You might also be interested in…

Canberra Health Literacy Articles


Canberra Health Literacy Pages


Canberra Health Literacy Websites


Canberra Health Literacy


Last Updated on 27 March, 2024.