Health Literacy Month

October, as well as being MLA’s National Medical Librarian Month, is also Health Literacy Month.

A very brief definition of health literacy = the ability to understand basic health information.

The US Health Resources and Services Administration defines it as “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information needed to make appropriate health decisions and services needed to prevent or treat illness.”

Low health literacy is more common among the elderly, socio-economically disadvantaged, and minorities. Health literacy is a major public health concern.

Examples of low health literacy include:

Difficulty finding accurate health information
Trouble finding healthcare services
Misunderstanding diagnosis

How can we help?

Healthcare providers can identify those with low literacy and use plain language terms to explain medical conditions to their patients. For patients for whom English is a second language, providers can offer patients handouts in their primary language, and a translator to help with communication and comprehension.

Finally, we, everyone, can recommend, and help others access reliable health information online. The following are two great resources put together by health workers and librarians (and they are available on your smartphones!):

MedlinePlus Offers quality health information in English and Spanish.  The websites’ Health Topics covers medical conditions and wellness and there is a medical dictionary to explain medical terms.  This website is created by the National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health.

CLIC-on-Health Provides a portal to local health information resources, particularly geared towards Rochester and New York State residents. This includes information on nutrition, support groups, physicians, and healthcare in other languages and much much more!


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