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"The more you read, the more you’ll know": health literacy and patient conversations

Monday 3rd July is the start of Health Information Week 2023, a cross-sector look at the positive impact of good-quality health information.


Monday’s theme is Health Literacy. In this blog, Kerry Flett (Knowledge Specialist) and Anita DeHavilland (Quality Improvement Specialist) take you through why health literacy is important for better health, and why you should sign up for one of our workshops…


What is health literacy, and why does it matter?

Health literacy is our ability to read, understand and act on information on healthcare topics, and communicate what we decide to do.


We use it in a huge range of ways, from reading the nutrition labels on food to deciding how much medicine we should have (or give to someone else). Even pictures can be confusing: ideas for what this one means on a postcard!

baby illustration

Good health literacy helps us manage long-term conditions like diabetes and reduce medication problems like under or over-dosing. It can reduce pressure on clinical teams by supporting people to stay well, too.


Health literacy in the local area

Between 29% and 45% of people in our region have reading skills that don’t match what’s needed to understand health information. When we look at numbers and reading together, between 47% and 65% of people in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight will struggle with it.


This means, roughly, that between 1 in 4 and 2 in 3 people in our communities won’t feel able to understand information about their health well enough to be able to use it.


Anita’s reflections:

For Anita, learning about health literacy has been a voyage of discovery. As she writes,

"It blew my mind! I knew there were some real areas of deprivation in Portsmouth and that this could have an impact on education, but didn’t equate that to later life. I think I was living in my own little bubble! After going to the original session in my last trust, I was more conscious about how I discharged my patients, especially when it came to ensuring that they understood the information around their medications. I would check in and get them to repeat back to me what they understood and repeat the information again if required, giving the option for handwritten, easy-to-read instructions that reflected the verbal ones."

What can we do next?

Many of those who come to our sessions say they feel more comfortable using different ways of communicating health information after their training, and go away with useful sources for the future.


Anita’s reflection is a great example of a tool called Teach Back. If you want to know more about this and other practical ways of making information accessible, sign up for one of our Health Literacy workshops through the Academy website or intranet pages.


Our next one is this Wednesday, 5th July. As healthcare professionals we need to ensure that we fully understand health literacy and how we can better support our patients, families, and carers. Next time you are thinking of producing an information flyer or printing out appointment letters, why not get your colleagues to check it’s accessible, or ask your patients what they think?

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