Health Literacy in Primary Care Practice

Am Fam Physician. 2015 Jul 15;92(2):118-24.


Health literacy includes a set of skills needed to make appropriate health decisions and successfully navigate the health care system. These skills include reading, writing, numeracy, communication, and, increasingly, the use of electronic technology. National data indicate that more than one-third of U.S. adults have limited health literacy, which contributes to poor health outcomes and affects patient safety, and health care access and quality. Although there are a number of tools that screen for limited health literacy, they are primarily used for research. Routinely screening patients for health literacy has not been shown to improve outcomes and is not recommended. Instead, multiple professional organizations recommend using universal health literacy precautions to provide understandable and accessible information to all patients, regardless of their literacy or education levels. This includes avoiding medical jargon, breaking down information or instructions into small concrete steps, limiting the focus of a visit to three key points or tasks, and assessing for comprehension. Additionally, printed information should be written at or below a fifth- to sixth-grade reading level. Visual aids, graphs, or pictures can enhance patient understanding, as can more concrete presentation of numerical information.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Health Literacy* / methods
  • Health Literacy* / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Patient Education as Topic
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Professional-Patient Relations
  • United States