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J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2005 Mar-Apr;12(2):152-63. Epub 2004 Nov 23.

Promoting health literacy.

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  • 1National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD 20894, USA.


This report reviews some of the extensive literature in health literacy, much of it focused on the intersection of low literacy and the understanding of basic health care information. Several articles describe methods for assessing health literacy as well as methods for assessing the readability of texts, although generally these latter have not been developed with health materials in mind. Other studies have looked more closely at the mismatch between patients' literacy levels and the readability of materials intended for use by those patients. A number of studies have investigated the phenomenon of literacy from the perspective of patients' interactions in the health care setting, the disenfranchisement of some patients because of their low literacy skills, the difficulty some patients have in navigating the health care system, the quality of the communication between doctors and their patients including the cultural overlay of such exchanges, and ultimately the effect of low literacy on health outcomes. Finally, the impact of new information technologies has been studied by a number of investigators. There remain many opportunities for conducting further research to gain a better understanding of the complex interactions between general literacy, health literacy, information technologies, and the existing health care infrastructure.

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