October is health literacy month

Person looking at a prescription bottle at a computer

Health literacy—the ability to obtain, process and understand health information and services to make smart health decisions—is a skill all of us should have.

Unfortunately, though, the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) estimates that over a third of U.S. adults—77 million people—have difficulty with common health tasks, like following directions on a prescription drug label or adhering to a childhood immunization schedule using a standard chart.

NAAL’s landmark study also found that although half of adults without a high school education had below basic health literacy skills, many high school and college graduates also have limited health literacy. Compared to privately insured adults, both publicly insured and uninsured adults had lower health literacy skills. And all adults, regardless of their health literacy skills, were more likely to get health information from radio, television, friends, family and health professionals than from print media.

Healthcare, prescription medication and insurance terminology is complicated and difficult to grasp for all Americans, regardless of insurance status and education level. However, it is particularly challenging for those with basic health literacy skills. Here at PAN, we are committed to helping people navigate the healthcare system, which includes making sure they have information in hand that is straightforward and easy to understand. With this information, we hope that individuals and their families are better positioned to understand their options and can make smart choices about their health.

We created the following materials to do just that—we hope you will check them out and share with others. We look forward to creating more resources that will be helpful to those you serve.

Source: America’s Health Literacy: Why We Need Accessible Health Information. An Issue Brief from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.