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What Is Health Literacy

    Health literacy is the ability to access, read, understand, and use health care information in order to make good health decisions and to follow instructions to treat oneself. The official definition of health literacy is an individuals ability to obtain, communicate, process, and understand essential health information and services, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).1 Just as reading literacy gives you skills for understanding and using written information, health literacy refers to the skills needed for understanding and making decisions about your health. Based on this clinical definition, health literacy gives individuals the skills needed both to understand and effectively communicate health information and concerns.

    A common feature across 17 explicit definitions is that they focus on individuals skills in accessing, processing, and understanding the health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions. Personal health literacy is the extent to which individuals are competent in finding, understanding, and using information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others. Health literacy is related to literacy, involving individuals knowledge, motivation, and ability to access, understand, evaluate, and apply health information in order to make judgments and decisions about daily living that are relevant to healthcare, disease prevention, and health promotion, in order to maintain or enhance quality of life throughout life.

    A prior systematic review identified access, understanding, appraisal, communication, and application of health information as five essential components of health literacy.5 But, it ignored the critical role of general literacy skills,4 which may in fact shape peoples needs and how they access and use health-related information. Sorensen and colleagues summarized the literature and presented skills for accessing, understanding, evaluating, and applying information and knowledge as four core competencies for health literacy, which may encompass all related work people must do in dealing with health information in order to improve and maintain health. The skillset contains general literacy and numeracy skills, such as reading, writing, number skills, listening, and speaking, and specific skills to obtain, understand, evaluate, communicate, synthesize, and apply health-related information. Going through the steps in the process of obtaining information in each of these three areas empowers individuals to take control over their health, applying their general skills of literacy and numeracy, and their particular skills of health literacy, to acquire necessary information, to understand that information, critically review and evaluate it, and to take actions independently in order to address individual, structural, social, and economic barriers to health, and to act to overcome personal, structural, social, and economic barriers to health.

    Health literacy skills enable patients to take control of their own health by making intelligent healthcare choices, improving their communications with doctors, and providing the information needed to advocate for themselves in a medical context. Because of the potential impact that health literacy has on patient outcomes, OB-GYNs need to take the appropriate steps to ensure they are communicating in an understandable way to enable patients to make educated decisions about their own healthcare. Because limited health literacy is prevalent and may be difficult to identify, experts suggest that practices assume all patients and carers may struggle with understanding health information, and they should communicate in ways anyone can understand. The prevalence of poor literacy can result in patients being underprepared to interpret health terminology and to comprehend complex health-related constructs, and therefore, be unable to make informed decisions about their own care and to comply with medical recommendations.

    A more robust vision of health literacy includes an ability to understand health concepts, content, and research; skills in oral, written, and online communication; critical interpretation of messages from the popular media; navigation of complex systems of care and government; knowledge of and utilization of community capital and resources; and use of cultural and Indigenous knowledges in making health decisions. Sykes and colleagues argue that critical health literacy covers advanced personal skills, knowledge about health, information skills, effective interactions between providers and users, informed decision-making, and empowerment, including political action. Four dimensions of health literacy within health care, that is, being able to access information about health or clinical issues, understanding medical information, interpreting and evaluating medical information, and making informed decisions about medical issues and following health care recommendations. These tools are helping individuals to develop the digital literacy skills needed to access and evaluate medical information on the internet, as well as participate in the All of Us Study Project (All of Us).

    When developing health information, ensure that it is representative of the target groups ages, social and cultural diversity, language, and literacy skills. Such definitions are important both in conducting population studies and in researching interventions that seek to provide individuals with limited literacy skills equitable access to information and services.

    The capacity of the individual to process and utilize information to direct health care actions has been the primary focus of included studies. The current health care system requires consumers to make complex health-related decisions using information conveyed through frequently brief encounters and without likely considering an individuals unique information needs. Personnel in all levels of the medical system, and in all settings in which patients interact with this system (e.g., hospitals, doctors offices, insurers, administrative offices, community-based health initiatives), should learn how to communicate with patients in ways that account for each individuals unique circumstances and capacity for understanding health-related information.

    Now, you know this ability to understand and act upon medical instructions has implications for individuals as well as public health across the country. The teachings also taught individuals to take active decisions regarding their own health. In addition, she promotes efforts that focus on skills that help people transition from understanding to action, and from focusing on their health to focusing on their communities health.

    Several proposals have addressed the fact that health literacy is multidimensional, is a product of concerted efforts involving the person seeking care or information, providers and caretakers, the complexity and demands of the system, and the use of plain language to communicate.

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