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What is health literacy?

Health literacy is the ability to get, understand and act on health information and access health services in daily life.

Health literacy refers to the personal characteristics and social resources needed for individuals and communities to access, understand, appraise and use information and services to make decisions about health.  Health literacy includes the capacity to communicate, assert and enact these decisions.’ (World Health Organisation)

Why is health literacy important?

Low health literacy has profound implications for individuals, health services and health systems. A person’s ability to access, understand and use information about their condition will influence the actions they take and the decisions they make about treatment and management.

Health literacy is fundamental to shared decision making and effective partnerships between consumers and healthcare providers.

Anyone who needs health information and services needs health literacy skills to:

  • find information and services,
  • communicate their needs and preferences,
  • process the meaning and usefulness of the information and services,
  • understand the choices available to them and the likely consequences, and
  • decide which information and services match their needs and preferences so they can act.

Anyone who provides health information and services to others, either in a clinical or support role, also needs health literacy skills to:

  • help people find information and services,
  • communicate effectively about health and healthcare,
  • be able to provide useful information and services, and
  • decide which information and services work best for different situations and people so they can be supported to act.

Health literacy is an interaction between individuals and the environments where they get health information and health care. It is not static. It varies across the lifespan and depends on the circumstances individuals find themselves in.  It takes work from all parties, and a range of different approaches, to improve the health literacy of individuals and environments.

Health Literacy is the result of both environmental and individual facts - the quality of health information, the communication skills of people providing care, the physical setting, and their own skills, knowledge and motivation

Canberra Health Literacy website

The Canberra Health Literacy website has information and resources for consumers and for people who work for health and community services. This includes information about:

  • what health literacy is, why it’s important and how you can help build your health literacy
  • practical tips and information to help you get the most of out of your health care
  • how health services can create services and information that are easy for consumers to find and use
  • how health and community workers can support consumers who find their health literacy challenged in our health system.

The website was developed by HCCA with support from the ACT Health Directorate.  You can find the website at: www.cbrhl.org.au


HCCA’s role in Health Literacy

HCCA has more than forty years of experience in helping consumers access health care information and share in decisions about their care.

Our Health Literacy Program helps consumers improve their knowledge of health issues and how to access the support and health services they need. As the health system gets more complex, it is even more important that consumers have access to information that meets their needs and that they can understand.

We help consumers to be involved in decisions about the health system to make sure that their needs are being met.

We also try to improve people’s ability to advocate for themselves and their family. This means helping consumers to be clear about what they need and what they want so that they can communicate more effectively with health professionals and be equal partners in their own care.

HCCA has identified improving health literacy in the Canberra community as one of our four main goals in our Strategic Plan 2021-2024.

Health Literacy is an important part of all our activities and is central to how we work.

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