Health literacy enables people to use information to manage their health and healthcare needs, and effect change for healthier communities.  

There is moderate evidence that people with low health literacy are more likely to experience negative health outcomes. AHRQ (2011)

Low health literacy is associated with:
  • poorer health
  • chronic illness such as diabetes and hypertension
  • poor ability to interpret health messages and labels
  • medication errors
  • lower use of preventative services such as mammography and vaccination
  • more use of emergency services
  • increased risk of hospitalization
  • increased risk of mortality among seniors

The economic impact of low health literacy is unclear. Researchers estimate that three to five percent of total healthcare costs are due to low health literacy (Eichler et al, 2009). Based on estimates of total spending on health care from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, that translates into $6 to 10 billion for 2011. Further research is needed to determine the impact of low health literacy on healthcare costs.

In the systematic reviews, health literacy was measured primarily by assessing reading and numeracy skills. This does not reflect the evolving concept of health literacy that includes oral skills and system factors such as providers’ communication skills and the nature of the health care environment.


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Last updated: Aug 31, 2014
Health Literacy Connection