Health Literacy

Data indicates that for every 10 Australian adults, six may lack the skills to access, use, understand and find their way through our hospitals and health services.1

We know that people who have low health literacy skills will experience difficulty with communication, resulting in a poor understanding of their condition, treatment options and choices of care. People with low levels of health literacy are one and a half times more likely to have an adverse health outcome than someone who is health literate.

Health literacy is important as it shapes peoples’ health and the safety and quality of healthcare. Health literacy is about how people understand information in health and health care and how they use that information to make decisions.

Health literacy looks at two main components - individual health literacy, and the health literacy environment.

Health Literacy Domains

The Australian Commission Safety & Quality in Health Care recognises three broad domains of health literacy:

Literacy  The ability to understand and use various kinds of information such as books, information sheets, newspapers, magazines and brochures. It also includes the knowledge and skills required to locate and use information including tables and charts.
Numeracy  The knowledge and skills required to manage and respond to situations using numbers, such as medication management.
Wayfinding  The ability to understand and use information to find your way through the health system, such as navigating your way through a hospital.

The CEC Health Literacy Guide

More and more health care organisations are working to address barriers to health literacy, leading to improvements to the safety and quality of health care. By addressing these barriers, consumers can more readily access health information that is of a consistent standard, meaningful and relevant to their individual medical needs, and find it easier to navigate the health care system.

The Health Literacy Guide has been developed to assist health services by providing resources and practical strategies to assess and address health literacy barriers for patients.

LHD Examples

The links below profile the experiences, tools and resources of various LHDs in improving health literacy. They are available as reference materials for NSW Health facilities. All intellectual property remains that of the LHD or facility. If you would like to use, adapt or modify them, please contact the LHD or facility.


[1] Australian Bureau of Statistics 2009.