Conceptualising health literacy from the patient perspective

Patient Educ Couns. 2010 Apr;79(1):36-42. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2009.10.001. Epub 2009 Nov 5.


Objective: A person's health literacy, i.e., their ability to seek, understand and use health information, is a critical determinant of whether they are able to actively participate in their healthcare. The objective of this study was to conceptualise health literacy from the patient perspective.

Methods: Using comprehensive qualitative methods 48 individuals were interviewed across three distinct groups in Australia: those with a chronic condition, the general community and individuals who had recently presented to a metropolitan public hospital emergency department. Purposeful sampling was employed to ensure a range of experiences was captured.

Results: Seven key abilities were identified: knowing when to seek health information; knowing where to seek health information; verbal communication skills; assertiveness; literacy skills; capacity to process and retain information; application skills.

Conclusion: This study identifies key abilities patients identified as critical to seek, understand and utilise information in the healthcare setting. These abilities are not reflected in existing measures for health literacy. Future measures of health literacy could consider incorporating abilities identified in this study and may provide guidance in developing health interventions to assist patients to participate effectively in their health.

Practice implications: More comprehensive measures to assess patient's health literacy are needed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Australia
  • Communication*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Literacy*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care
  • Patient Education as Topic*
  • Patient Satisfaction*
  • Patient-Centered Care*
  • Professional-Patient Relations
  • Qualitative Research
  • Victoria