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Health Literacy and what it means

Donna Tracy, Communications Coordinator

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, Title V, defines health literacy as the degree to which an individual has the capacity to obtain, communicate, process, and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions.

Alan Barrett, MSPAS, PA-C, said health literacy is important because it ensures patients know what to expect from their care and what not to expect. Barrett, who sees patients at the HopeHealth Medical Plaza in Florence, said health literacy means being an active participant in your own healthcare.

“Not just attending appointments and having test exams and tests performed, but understanding why they are performed,” he said. He added that it is also important to understand why some tests are not performed.

“Is it cost prohibitive? Would it do more harm than good?” he asked. “These are the decisions your medical provider must make at each visit and, the better your health literacy is, the better able you are to understand the rationale behind each decision.”

Organizations can help make sure patients understand what is going on with their health in several ways. These include simple steps such as speaking clearly and not too fast, asking patients to repeat back the information in their own words, and making sure a patient has had time to absorb the information provided.

Language, however, can be a barrier, and addressing those barriers for both providers and patients is essential. A provider misunderstanding a patient is just as much a barrier to communications as a patient misunderstanding a provider.

At HopeHealth, such barriers are addressed by ensuring general printed information is provided in plain language and, where possible, interpreters are available to accompany a patient when needed. Additionally, a health literacy committee reviews patient materials to ensure they are written in plain language.

Health literacy is essential for patients to be able to

  • Find information and services
  • Communicate their needs and preferences and respond to information and services
  • Process the meaning and usefulness of the information and services
  • Understand the choices, consequences and context of the information and services
  • Decide which information and services match their needs and preferences so they can act


Anyone who provides health information and services to others, such as a doctor, nurse, dentist, pharmacist, or public health worker, also needs health literacy skills to

  • Help people find information and services
  • Communicate about health and healthcare
  • Process what people are explicitly and implicitly asking for
  • Understand how to provide useful information and services
  • Decide which information and services work best for different situations and people so they can act



HopeHealth educates its patients on the importance of having a health care home. As a primary care facility, HopeHealth’s medical team works to prevent and detect illness and the early onset of disease, provide routine physical examinations and promote overall healthy lifestyles.

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HopeHealth 360 North Irby St. Florence, SC 29501 (843) 667-9414
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