Committee on Health Literacy

Type: Consensus Study
Topics: Aging, Health Services, Coverage, and Access, Public Health, Quality and Patient Safety
Board: Board on Neuroscience and Behavioral Health

Activity Description

Many American adults have difficulty understanding and acting upon health information.  A great deal of health information, from insurance forms to advertising, contains complex text.  Even very literate people may have trouble obtaining, understanding, and using health information:  a surgeon may have trouble using an insurance form, a science teacher may not understand information about a test of brain function, and an accountant may not know when to get a mammogram.

Health literacy is the degree to which individuals can obtain, process, and understand the basic health information and services they need to make appropriate health decisions. But health literacy goes beyond the individual. It also depends upon the skills, preferences, and expectations of those health information providers: our doctors, nurses, administrators, home health workers, the media, and many others. Health literacy arises from a convergence of education, health services, and social and cultural factors, and brings together research and practice from diverse fields. 

The IOM Committee on Health Literacy released its report in April, 2004.