The term ‘health literacy’ refers to an individual’s or community’s ability to access, understand and use health information, and navigate the health system.
Importantly, literacy levels are influenced by the environment: things like infrastructure, policies, processes, materials, people and relationships that make up the health system.
Health literacy is also determined by individual factors such as education, age, socio-economic status, or fluency in English.
Why is health literacy important?
Health literacy is one of six regional health priorities identified in NWMPHN’s population health needs assessment. Nearly 60% of Australians have limited ability to understand and use health information.
Low understanding of health information has been associated with:
- increased hospital use
- premature mortality in elderly
- poorer ability to take medications appropriately
- Lower rates of preventative health activities like flu vaccines, cancer screenings
- Increased risk of adverse health events
- Increased healthcare costs for the individual and health system
- less active self-management.
Read more about the impacts on health outcomes in our document Communicating with patients: improving health literacy and outcomes (.pdf, 304kb).
NWMPHN is working to support primary care in our region become accessible and equitable to improve patient outcomes. We do this by addressing the environments in which people access healthcare and through the following activities:
- Practice Managers Small Group Learning
- Health literacy initiatives in refugee and asylum seeker health
- Health literacy awareness videos for primary care workers
- Quality Improvement grants focusing on health literacy initiatives
- APNA online course: Health Literacy – Improving communication and participation in health and health care delivery.
- Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care
- Australian Family Physician: An overview of health literacy.
- Centre for Health Culture, Ethnicity & Health
CEH’s knowledge hub: contains nine pages on understanding and achieving health literacy and improving communication.