Health Literacy

Being able to understand important health information is critical to ensuring health equity for all patients. To reduce the possibility of miscommunication, providers must communicate crucial health information clearly and in terms that the member can understand.

What is Health Literacy?


Health literacy is the degree to which organizations equitably enable individuals to find, understand and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.

Why is it important?

An estimated 1 in 3 people in the US struggle with understanding their health information. When people have a hard time processing and understanding their health information, this can lead to: 

  • Challenges with managing chronic disease(s)
  • Increased hospitalization 
  • Inability to follow treatment instructions
  • Serious complications due to chronic disease and other health problems

Health literacy helps members:

  • Interpret their test results 
  • Weigh the benefits and risks of potential treatments 
  • Identify credible sources of health information (such as their primary care provider and .gov websites) 
  • Detect false information

Supporting members

Utilize interpreter services for patients with limited English proficiency (LEP)

HPSM contracted providers are required to provide linguistically appropriate services to members with LEP or a hearing impairment. We therefore offer free phone, video and in-person American Sign Language (ASL) services provided by professionally trained interpreters. Learn more about language assistance services.

Ensure that appointments are accessible for all patients at all points of contact

Consider how the appointment process may be experienced by a person who is blind or has low vision, limited English proficiency, physical disability, or who is deaf or hearing-impaired. Ensure that there is accessible signage and that all clinic staff are trained to provide equitable access and care at every point of contact, including:

  • Appointment scheduling
  • Security/information desk
  • Reception
  • Paperwork
  • Examination room
  • Pharmacy

Provide tools to support patients in getting the care they need

Providing patients with information on how to prepare for an appointment and what to expect before, during and after their visit is an important part of health literacy and can help build trust between providers and patients. Appointment support tools can help patients comply with provider instructions, manage medications, and know when and how to reach out for follow up support.

To help patients prepare for an appointment:

Using the teach-back method

The teach-back method is a good way to check how well you are explaining health information and that the patient understands correctly. When performing teach-back, clinicians may ask the member to repeat back care instructions or information on a new diagnosis. You can make the teach-back method work in a way that feels natural to you. Consider incorporating it into your day-to-day conversations gradually and in your own words. Here are some examples of potential teach-back questions:

  • “After this visit, I know your wife will ask what happened today. What will you tell her?”
  • “Would you please show me how you are going to use your inhaler, so I know if I was able to explain it clearly?”
  • “This is a new diagnosis for you, so I want to make sure I explained it clearly. Will you tell me in your own words what congestive heart failure is?”

Other Resources