Addressing low literacy and health literacy in clinical oncology practice

J Support Oncol. 2010 Mar-Apr;8(2):64-9.


Low functional literacy and low health literacy continue to be under-recognized and are associated with poorer patient health outcomes. Health literacy is a dynamic state influenced by how well a healthcare system delivers information and services that match patients' abilities, needs and preferences. Oncology care poses considerable health literacy demands on patients who are expected to process high stakes information about complex multidisciplinary treatment over lengths of time. Much of the information provided to patients in clinical care and research is beyond their literacy levels. In this paper, we provide an overview of currently available guidelines and resources to improve how the needs of patients with diverse literacy skills are met by cancer care providers and clinics. We present recommendations for health literacy assessment in clinical practice and ways to enhance the usability of health information and services by improving written materials and verbal communication, incorporating multimedia and culturally appropriate approaches, and promoting health literacy in cancer care settings.The paper also includes a list of additional resources that can be used to develop and implement health literacy initiatives in cancer care clinics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Communication*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Literacy*
  • Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Medical Oncology / standards*
  • Patient Education as Topic*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic