The perspective of healthcare providers and patients on health literacy: a systematic review of the quantitative and qualitative studies

Perspect Public Health. 2018 Mar;138(2):122-132. doi: 10.1177/1757913917733775. Epub 2017 Oct 5.


Aim: Health literacy (HL) is a multifaceted concept, thus understanding the perspective of healthcare providers, patients, and the system is vital. This systematic review examines and synthesises the available studies on HL-related knowledge, attitude, practice, and perceived barriers.

Methods: CINAHL and Medline (via EBSCOhost), Google Scholar, PubMed, ProQuest, Sage Journals, and Science Direct were searched. Both quantitative and/or qualitative studies in the English language were included. Intervention studies and studies focusing on HL assessment tools and prevalence of low HL were excluded. The risk of biasness reduced with the involvement of two reviewers independently assessing study eligibility and quality.

Results: A total of 30 studies were included, which consist of 19 quantitative, 9 qualitative, and 2 mixed-method studies. Out of 17 studies, 13 reported deficiency of HL-related knowledge among healthcare providers and 1 among patients. Three studies showed a positive attitude of healthcare providers towards learning about HL. Another three studies demonstrated patients feel shame exposing their literacy and undergoing HL assessment. Common HL communication techniques reported practiced by healthcare providers were the use of everyday language, teach-back method, and providing patients with reading materials and aids, while time constraint was the most reported HL perceived barriers by both healthcare providers and patients.

Conclusion: Significant gaps exists in HL knowledge among healthcare providers and patients that needs immediate intervention. Such as, greater effort placed in creating a health system that provides an opportunity for healthcare providers to learn about HL and patients to access health information with taking consideration of their perceived barriers.

Keywords: health promotion; public health; public health policy.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Communication
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Literacy / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Personnel / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Patients / psychology*