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Health literacy is the ability to get, understand and use health information in daily life.

Health literacy is more than just being able to read, write and understand medical words.  It is about being able to:

  • give health professionals the information they need to understand your problem and how to help you
  • ask questions about your health and make sure you understand the answers, even if that means asking them to explain it again
  • manage your health, especially if you have long term or complex conditions
  • find good information about health, illness and treatments that might help, and work out what information is relevant to you and your individual circumstances
  • make choices about your health care based on the possible risks (bad outcomes) and benefits (good outcomes)
  • express your needs and preferences so that you get health care that is right for you.

Everyone, including people who read well and are comfortable with numbers, can struggle with health literacy when:

  • they are unwell or are taking medications that affect how well they can think
  • English is not their main language
  • they are diagnosed with a serious illness and are scared
  • the information provided is not easy to understand or badly explained
  • the information or setting is not culturally sensitive or appropriate.


Six out of every ten (60%) adult Australians struggle to understand and use everyday health information, including how to use medicines safely or find the right health service for their needs [ABS 2006 Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey (ALLS)].

Nearly 1 in 3 people with a university degree have low health literacy.

Improving health literacy can help people to find the right services and doctors, mange their health, get to appointments, take their medicine the right way, fill out forms, share their medical history, have a health lifestyle, follow medical advice
Improving Health Literacy

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, and
  • 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 you can access information that meets your needs and that you 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.  Making sure health literacy is built into everything we do is guided by our:

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