Over recent years, researchers and professionals in the public health and medical communities have brought increasing attention to the significant impact that health literacy can have on the well-being of individuals with limited literacy skills. At the same time, they have highlighted that health literacy is not merely a function of the skills of individuals. Rather, health literacy is an interaction between individuals’ skills and the demands and expectations imposed on them by health materials, health professionals and the health system.
In the United States, several major health policy developments have sought to address the critical issue of health literacy by intervening to improve one or more of these components of health literacy. The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Prevention of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services introduced an action lan to improve health literacy in 2010. The National Action Plan laid out seven goals for improving health literacy, including goals related to the development of health materials, the way health information is disseminated in the health care system, and the health literacy skills of the population. The Affordable Care Act (ACA), introduced that same year, also included several provisions related to health literacy. For example, it sought to improve health professionals’ skills by incorporating health literacy into professional training. It also included provisions requiring insurers, clinicians and other health professionals to communicate health information to patients or consumers in a clear, easily understood fashion.
The National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy and the ACA are just two examples of initiatives in the United States that illustrate policymakers’ increasing awareness of the importance of health literacy. Health literacy is emerging as an area of interest in other countries as well. For example, in 2015 the New Zealand Ministry of Health released two publications, “Health Literacy Review: A Guide,” and “A Framework for Health Literacy” as part of its efforts to better address health literacy considerations within its health system. Additionally, policies and initiatives have been introduced in Australia, Italy’s Emilia Romagna region, and Israel that have sought to create more health literate health systems. More information about these efforts can be found by clicking on the link included below to access the IOM Health Literacy Workshop Summary on Health Literacy: Improving Health, Health Systems, and Health Policy around the World.
Examples of recent policy initiatives related to health literacy are highlighted in the resources below.
Health Literacy Review: A Guide, New Zealand Ministry of Health, 2015
A Framework for Health Literacy, New Zealand Ministry of Health, 2015
Heallth Literacy: Improving Health, Health Systems, and Health Policy Around the World: Workshop Summary
The National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy
Plain Writing Act
Improving Health Literacy for Older Adults
What did the Doctor Say?: Improving Health Literacy to Protect Patient Safety
Surgeon General’s Workshop on Improving Health Literacy
Health Literacy: A Prescription to End Confusion
Healthy People 2010, Objective 11-2. Improvement of Health Literacy
A National Call to Action to Promote Oral Health