Health literacy measurement: an inventory and descriptive summary of 51 instruments

J Health Commun. 2014:19 Suppl 2:302-33. doi: 10.1080/10810730.2014.936571.


This article aimed to provide a descriptive review of the psychometric properties and conceptual dimensions of published health literacy measurement tools. PsycINFO and PubMed search from 1999 through 2013, review of the grey literature, and an environmental scan was conducted to identify health literacy measurement tools. For each tool, we evaluated the conceptual dimensions assessed, test parameters, and psychometric properties. Of the 51 tools identified, 26 measured general health literacy, and 15 were disease or content specific, and 10 aimed at specific populations. Most tools are performance based, require in-person administration, and are exclusively available in a pencil and paper testing mode. The tools assess 0 (proxy measure) to 9 of the 11 defined dimensions of health literacy. Reported administration times vary, from less than 1 to 60 minutes. Validation procedures for most of the tools are limited by inadequate power to ensure reliability across subgroups (i.e., race, age, ethnicity, and gender). The health literacy measurement tools currently available generally represent a narrow set of conceptual dimensions with limited modes of administration. Most of the tools lack information on key psychometric properties. Significant work is needed to establish important aspects of the construct, convergent, and predictive validity for many tools. As researchers develop new measures, inclusion of a full range of conceptual dimensions of health literacy, more representative sampling for testing, and additional modes of administration will allow a more refined and flexible approach to research in this field.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Educational Measurement / methods*
  • Health Literacy / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Psychometrics
  • Reproducibility of Results