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What is Health Literacy?

Interested in starting a health literacy initiative at your organization? We can help. To learn more or schedule a training or workshop, please contact Karen Komondor at 216.363.2553 or email her at karen.komondor@stvincentcharity.com.

Differing from literacy itself, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) has defined health literacy as “the degree to which individuals can obtain, process, and understand the basic health information and services they need to make appropriate health decisions.”

Health literacy requires basic reading skills, but also the ability to understand oral communication, use numbers and math skills, understand how to navigate the health system on a basic level, as well as the ability to communicate with health care providers and their staff. In other words, Health Literacy is the:

  • Patient’s ability to understand and act on health information
  • Health care provider’s ability to communicate so patients can act on the information to take better care of their health.

Questions are the Answer

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) created a campaign titled “Questions are the Answer” that focuses on the importance of asking your doctor questions. View the video and learn more about how to improve communication with your healthcare provider.

Facts and Figures

  • It is estimated that nearly half of American adults, 90 million people, have only basic or below-basic health literacy skills and have difficulty understanding and acting on health information (Institute of Medicine Report “Health Literacy: a Prescription to End Confusion).
  • Persons with limited health literacy skills have higher utilization of treatment services including hospitalization and emergency services and lower utilization of preventive services.
  • Individuals with limited health literacy incur medical expenses that are up to four times greater than patients with adequate health literacy skills.
  • The estimated added annual cost to the health care system due to low health literacy is $106-$238 billion (Low Health Literacy: Implications for National Health Policy, Vernon, J. Trujillo, A. Rosenbaum, S. Debuono, B. October 2007)
  • People from all ages, races, income levels and education levels are challenged by this problem.
  • Many patients hide their confusion from their provider because they are too ashamed and intimidated to ask for help.

The mission of Health Literacy at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center

St. Vincent Charity has adopted the “Universal Precautions” approach recommended by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Our Mission is to provide easy to understand information for ALL patients and to utilize the five steps for improving health literacy with ALL patients.

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