Health Literacy

ASHNHA is dedicated to increasing access to health literacy resources in the state of Alaska. In the US, only 12% of adults have proficient health literacy levels, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Low health literacy is linked to higher risk of death and more emergency room visits and hospitalizations for patients. Also, low health literacy is a major source of economic inefficiency in the U.S. healthcare system. It is estimated that the cost of low health literacy to the U.S. economy is between $106 billion to $238 billion annually. 

Patients & Families

On an individual level, health literacy is defined as the degree to which individuals have the ability to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others. 

In Alaska, 58% of U.S. adults read below a 6th grade level. Anchorage is one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the U.S. with a large immigrant and refugee population and almost 100 languages spoken by children in the public school system.

Basic literacy skills, language, age, disability, cultural context, and emotional responses can all affect the way people receive and process information

Based in Anchorage and partnered with Providence Alaska Medical Center and The Anchorage Health Literacy Collaborative (TAHLC) are Peer Leader Navigators, or PLNs, that help community members understand and connect with resources regarding healthcare information. 

PLNs not only provide information and resources to the community in a way that is understandable and useable, but they also inform healthcare providers about the best ways to reach people in the community and provide services that are culturally relevant. 

To access the help and guidance of PLNs in your community:

Visit Alaska Literacy Program for more information and events. 

Healthcare Professionals

Measuring health literacy for healthcare providers is through the ability to which providers effectively communicate information regarding healthcare and services to enable patients to make their own quality health-related decisions.  

Healthcare providers are a community’s gateway to many health services. Providers are also trusted sources of information for many people. The resources on this page can help healthcare providers recognize and respond to patients’ information and communication needs. The resources may also help other individuals and organizations identify common interests and opportunities to work with healthcare providers and health services organizations. 

Some key strategies that can be used by healthcare providers include using both Plain Language and Teach Back

Plain Language is writing that is clear, concise, well-organized, and follows others best practices appropriate to the subject or field and intended audience. Resources are listed below. 

Teach Back is a technique for healthcare providers to ensure that they have explained medical information clearly so that patients and their families understand what is communicated to them. Resources also included below. 

Plain Language Resources:

Teach Back Resources:

As healthcare professionals, there are also other ways to learn more about communicating effectively and how to ensure engaging conversation with patients. 

Organizations

Health literacy for healthcare systems is the degree to which organizations equitably enable individuals to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others. 

Many government agencies and academic, for-profit and non-profit organizations have health literacy programs, participate in committees, and contribute to plans and reports. Listed below is more information about what other agencies are doing for health literacy. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and its agencies contribute to the science and practice of health literacy improvement. Here are some examples for actionable plans you can take to improve health literacy at your organization. 

National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy, published by health.gov

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality: Health Literacy, includes health literacy improvement tools and trainings

Health Resources and Services Administration: Health Literacy, why should we promote health literacy?

National Institutes of Health: Clear Communication: A NIH Health Literacy Initiative, resources for incorporating plain language approaches for healthcare facilities 

Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, HHS: Health Literacy Improvement, features initiatives to use at facilities such as health literacy workgroups

Office of Minority Health Cultural and Linguistic Competency, resources for training programs for cultural and linguistic competency for healthcare providers and organizations 

Resources

Other Health Literacy Collaboratives

Health Literacy Toolkits

Non-English Materials

Past and Future Webinars 

Additional Research

Media Materials