Health Literacy

Subject Guide

John A. Burns School of Medicine Health Sciences Library
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Health Literacy Fact Sheets
Defines health literacy and its impact including tools to address the problem.


Do you remember having played a children's party game called "telephone"? It's the one where you whisper a message in your friend's ear and they in turn whisper it to the next person and so on until the last person has to repeat the message out loud? Usually the result is hilarious, unfortunately in the health care setting information may get garbled or easily misunderstood because the messenger and receiver are not clearly communicating about important health information.

In the current US medical model, we have a high "health literacy" requirement, as patients or their caregivers are expected to be active participants in obtaining information about their health, making decisions and managing their medical conditions based on their understanding.

This libguide is intended for all those with an interest in effective health communication and positively impacting health outcomes.


Health Literacy is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions. - Healthy People 2010

Health literacy is not simply the ability to read. It requires a complex group of reading, listening, analytical, and decision-making skills, and the ability to apply these skills to health situations. For example, it includes the ability to understand instructions on prescription drug bottles, appointment slips, medical education brochures, doctor's directions and consent forms, and the ability to negotiate complex health care systems. - Health Literacy (NNLM)



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Health Sciences Library of the John A. Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawaii at Mānoa
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