Health Literacy

In Australia, 60% of people have low health literacy [1]. Health literacy describes how people access, understand, appraise and apply health information in order to make decisions about their health [2]. Partnering with patients, families and carers to ensure understanding of their health can reduce personal, community and economic costs of care.

It is important to address health literacy across the whole health system in order to deliver care which is safe, high quality and person centered. Change at both individual and organisational levels is needed.

The CEC has developed a Health Literacy Framework as a guide to action. There are four priorities outlined in the framework. The priorities aim to create sustainable system level change, and improve safety and quality of care.

Enabling patients, families and carers to understand and manage their health is a key way to improve their quality of life and reduce the impact of disease. Identifying and removing barriers for them to become active partners in their health care is vital.

NSW Health Literacy Priorities

How to get started

It can be difficult to know where to start your health literacy journey. The following tools may help:

  • Do a gap analysis of the Ten Attributes of Health Literate Health Care Organisations using the tool developed by NNSW LHD and now available on QARS (Quality Audit Reporting System)
  • Refer to the Matrix to view links between Ten Attributes, framework priorities and national standards
  • Define your goals – ensure they are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, results, time bound) – see CEC website for improvement tools
  • Take a system's approach to producing consumer resources. Follow the process outlined by ISLHD, and available on the WSLHD health literacy site. See also CEC plain English writing tips reference.
  • Ensure your health centres and facilities are easy to access and navigate by doing regular audits using the QARS tool
  • Translating resource material – ensure your English copy is written in plain English prior to seeking translation

Information for patients/useful links

The following tools can help patients, families and carers to communicate with their doctor, nurse or other health professional.

The Ask Share Know General Practice network aims to improve the uptake of evidence based practice and shared decision making. The network is a National Health and Medical Research Centred (NHMRC) funded centre for Research Evidence. The Ask flyer, question card and consultation summary give patients useful questions to ask their doctor or health professional

The question builder helps you prepare for your medical appointment by creating a list of questions to ask. There are other useful resources on the site, including a symptom checker and health information.

Local Health District Examples

The links below profile the experiences, tools and resources of various Local Health Districts (LHDs) in improving health literacy. They are available as reference materials for NSW Health facilities. All intellectual property remains that of the LHD or facility. If you would like to use, adapt or modify them, please contact the LHD or facility.

[1] Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2009.
[2] Kickbusch, I, et al. (eds). The Solid Facts. World Health Organisation: 2013.