Health literacy is the confidence, knowledge, motivation, relationships and skills… that people draw on…to make decisions about their health in everyday life. [i]
Health literacy describes your ability to get, understand and act on health information so you can make health decisions, look after your health and access health services.
Health literacy is about you being in control of your health and wellbeing and making sure you get high quality care that is right for you and anyone you care for.
Health literacy is more than just being able to read, write and understand medical words. It is about being able to:
- Understand your health and what is happening in your body, what is wrong and what the doctor or other health professionals think will help.
- Know who to go to for help and where to find good information about health, diseases and treatments that might help.
- Give doctors and other health professionals the information they need to understand your problem and how to help you.
- Ask questions about your health and make sure you understand the answers, even if that means asking the doctor to explain it again.
- Understand what medication you are taking, how to take it properly, and why you need it.
- Manage all the appointments, tests or scans and knowing what you need to do to prepare for them and why you need them.
- Easily find the services you need to get help.
- Easily get to where the service is, including get transport there, find the building and work out which office to go to.
- Make choices about your health care based on good information about what the possible risks and benefits are, what the cost is, and what the most likely outcome is.
- Feeling comfortable to express your fears, preferences, and priorities so that you get health care that is right for you and your circumstances.
The way health services and health professionals communicate with you is important. Your health care team should work with you to make sure the information you get is easy for you to understand, and helps you to make health decisions that are right for you.
What can you do to improve your health literacy?
There are lots of ways you can improve your health literacy and take charge of your health. Read through the advice on the pages in this part of the website. The suggestions and tools they offer can help you improve your health literacy and the quality of your health care.
[i] Health Care Consumers Association, Health Literacy Position Statement, online at: https://www.hcca.org.au/publication/health-literacy-position-statement/. This definition draws on:
Ilona Kickbusch, Suzanne Wait & Daniella Maag, ‘Navigating health. The role of health literacy’. International Longevity Centre, UK, 2005, https://ilcuk.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/NavigatingHealth.pdf, (Accessed 1 June 2017),
World Health Organization (1998) ‘Health literacy’, Health Promotion Glossary WHO/HPR/HEP/98.1, page 20, https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/WHO-HPR-HEP-98.1, (Accessed 2 June 2017), and
Ben J. Smith, Kwok Cho Tang & Don Nutbeam, ‘WHO Health Promotion Glossary: new terms’, Health Promotion International, 2006 December; Volume 21, Issue 4, pages 340-45