The Importance of Health Literacy

Health literacy can be defined as the ability of an individual to find relevant and reliable information on his or her health and process it effectively to adopt better practices and behaviors in terms of healthcare and self-care. Promoting health literacy “provides insight for professional development, institutional change, and policy initiatives” (“Health literacy studies,” 2015, para. 2). The nurses’ role in improving the health literacy of patients consists in providing proper patient education in the form of resources from which patients can learn how they should look for reliable health-related information, how they should access additional information concerning their health problems and treatment (e.g. books or online sources), how they should translate the knowledge they find into actual practices and behaviors, and how they can connect this independently found knowledge to the information they receive from their health care providers.

To improve health literacy, it is primarily needed to provide patients with sources from which they can learn to assess the reliability of health-related information that they may try to find. A guide composed by the United States Department of Health and Human Services (n.d.) can be a valuable resource, as it contains practical advice on how to use various sources and how not to be misled by unreliable information. It is crucial because the patients’ practice of self-diagnosing based on inaccurate or poorly understood information can hinder proper treatment, prevention, or recovery. Also, among strategies aimed at helping patients make more informed choices of online health information sources, Lee, Hoti, Hughes, and Emmerton (2014) suggest not only describing criteria of reliable information but also directly listing websites that can be trusted and blacklisting those that should not be accessed.


Health literacy studies (2015). Web.

Lee, K., Hoti, K., Hughes, J. D., & Emmerton, L. M. (2014). Interventions to assist health consumers to find reliable online health information: A comprehensive review. PLOS ONE, 9(4), 1-9.

United States Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Quick guide to health literacy. Web.

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