Health Literacy and Numeracy - Workshop Summary


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Although health literacy is commonly defined as an individual trait, it does not depend on the skills of individuals alone. Health literacy is the product of the interaction between individuals’ capacities and the health literacy-related demands and complexities of the health care system. Specifically, the ability to understand, evaluate, and use numbers is important to making informed health care choices. The IOM Roundtable on Health Literacy commissioned a paper on numeracy skills that addressed the following questions:

  1. What does research show about people’s numeracy skill levels?
  2. What kinds of numeracy skills are needed to select a health plan, choose treatments, and understand medication instructions?
  3. What do we know about how providers should communicate with those with low numeracy skills?

The roundtable then held a workshop on July 18, 2013, which featured the presentation of the paper by its authors. Speakers at the workshop discussed a number of topics related to numeracy, including the effects of ill health on cognitive capacity, issues with communication of health information to the public, and communicating numeric information for decision making. This document summarizes the workshop.