Health Literacy 2030: Is It Time to Redefine the Term?

J Gen Intern Med. 2020 Aug;35(8):2427-2430. doi: 10.1007/s11606-019-05472-y. Epub 2019 Oct 28.


For decades, health literacy has been used to describe the ability of individuals to locate, interpret, and apply health information to their decisions. The US Department of Health and Human Services has now proposed redefining the term to emphasize the role of society in providing accessible, comprehensible information. This redefinition would reflect a welcome shift to encompass the roles of those who communicate information, not simply those who seek it. However, redefining an accepted term would have serious negative effects on the indexing of the research literature and create difficulties interpreting studies conducted under the previous definition. Therefore, we strongly caution against redefining the accepted term. Instead, we propose introducing a new term-health information fluency-defined as universal effective use of health information. The old term can continue to be used to describe the set of concerns about individual skills, but by promoting the new term, the Department of Health and Human Services can encourage research into creating accurate, accessible health information that people can easily find, understand, and use to inform their decisions.

Keywords: Medical Subject Headings; comprehension; health communication; health literacy; vocabulary.

Publication types

  • Editorial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Comprehension
  • Health Literacy*
  • Humans