What does “health literacy” mean?

Dr. Ordway explains what “health literacy” means. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.


Health literacy is the ability to understand health information and be able to the information to make good decisions about your health and medical care, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

About nine out of 10 adults in the U.S. have trouble using everyday health information that is routinely available in healthcare facilities, media and their communities, according to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP).

Limited health literacy is associated with poor health and high healthcare costs, according to the ODPHP. A lack of health literacy negatively affects how people search for and use health information and whether they adopt healthy behavior.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), having a limited health literacy can affect your ability to:

  • Fill out complex forms
  • Locate providers and services
  • Manage a chronic disease
  • Share personal information, such as health history
  • Take care of yourself
  • Understand how to take medicines
  • To learn more about health literacy and how to improve yours, talk with your doctor.

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