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Health Literacy


Health care organizations have a responsibility to make sure patients can find health information, understand the information and use it to make decisions about their health care. The Health Literacy Office improves the ways health information is communicated, whether patients are reading or hearing it.

There can be many reasons why people find it hard to understand and use health information. 

  • Patients may feel sick, anxious or worried.
  • Medical language is complicated and technical.
  • Science and medicine change quickly.
  • It is not easy to process a lot of new information at once.
  • Culture, language and education matter.

Reading and Understanding Written Information

Patients get handouts, forms, instructions and more. Many times, the first message is “you have to be an expert to do this right.” The message should be “you can do this” whether it is understanding medicine instructions or agreeing to a procedure. The Health Literacy team helps staff create clear and reader-friendly written materials. Interpreter Language Services translates documents from the Health Literacy Office into Spanish and Vietnamese.

The Health Literacy Office orange seal shows the document is reader-friendly.

See an example of a revised handout [PDF].

If materials or handouts are hard to understand, send an email to the Health Literacy Office.  

Listening and Talking to Health Care Providers

Sometimes health care conversations are hard. It may be difficult to speak up when talking to providers, and it can be hard to understand what you’re hearing. The Health Literacy Office trains staff to speak clearly and check for understanding, which is called “teach back.” This method also helps patients understand by encouraging them to talk about health information in their own words. When asked why teach back helps, one patient said, “when I say it, I know it.”

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