How-To Tips

Health Literacy

Why Health Literacy Matters

Jan 1, 2023

Health literacy is at the forefront of many current health initiatives. That’s great, of course. But I sometimes wonder why it’s getting more attention than in years past. Here are my musings about why health literacy matters today: 

  • Patients need to understand health information quickly because they have less direct contact with their providers. This can include brief office appointments, phone or video-based consultations, and short hospitalizations.
  • Patients, along with their family members and other caregivers, are expected to correctly accomplish a wide array of health-related tasks. These tasks may be complex and unfamiliar, such as using new types of technology or taking medication on time-sensitive schedules. 
  • Patients must be active learners. This includes reading information from their healthcare providers. It also means assessing the credibility and relevance of health information shared by family and friends or found on television, newspapers, and the Internet.
  • Patients are increasingly seen as active consumers rather than passive recipients of treatment and care. Patients are often asked to make key health decisions and expected to advocate on their own behalf.
  • And somewhat cynically, I believe that one of the few ways left to reduce healthcare costs is by having patients and families take care of themselves. This requires knowing what to do, how to do it, and why it is important. In other words, this high level of self-care takes a heaping dose of health literacy. 

Why do you think health literacy matters so much today? Email me at

This month’s How-To Tip is adapted from Osborne’s award-winning book, Health Literacy from A to Z: Practical Ways to Communicate Your Health Message, Third Edition