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Health Literacy


Health literacy is your ability to find and understand health information, and then use that information to make good health decisions.

At UNM Health, we try to improve your health literacy by:

  • Making written materials easier to understand.
  • Encouraging and training health care workers to talk to you clearly and make sure you understand the information.
  • Working with other departments, including Interpreter Language Services.

Why Health Literacy Matters

Approximately 75 percent of adults look for health or medical information, but many have a difficult time understanding what they find. Take a look at these statistics:

  • One in two adults can’t understand a vaccination chart, read a standard drug label or use a BMI graph to find their healthy weight.
  • Older adults are three times more likely than adults ages 16 to 49 to have less than basic health literacy skills.
  • People with poor health are five times more likely than people in good health to have below basic health literacy skills.
  • Only 10 percent of adults have the skills needed to use health information that’s routinely available in health care facilities, retail outlets and the media.

Low health literacy can lead to people using fewer preventive services, including check-ups or mammograms. It can also lead to more hospital stays, more visits to the emergency department, and worse health outcomes.

How We Promote Health Literacy

Find out how UNM Health makes it easier for you to use and understand medical information.

As a hospital patient, you may receive many documents – including handouts about nutrition, consent forms, discharge instructions and more. Whenever possible, your document uses plain language, not complicated medical terms, and is written from your perspective. Pictures, color and graphs help make the information more appealing and easier to understand. And many materials are translated into Spanish, Vietnamese or other languages.

See examples of a revised handout [PDF] and consent form [PDF].

It’s important that you and your doctor are able to talk to each other. That’s why we train hospital staff and providers how to more clearly talk to you and check for understanding. We call this method “teach back.”

Ask questions during your visit so your providers understand what additional information patients need.

As part of the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, we recognize the importance of respecting all people.

We keep in mind that patients come from difference backgrounds, and we’re always striving to learn more about where our patients come from and their values. We recognize that going to a doctor can be a challenging experience for many people, and we work to make our clinics and materials as patient-friendly as possible.

The Health Literacy Task Force is a group of employees from UNM Health that helps put health literacy measures into practice throughout our health system. Your providers have access to training and resources that promote health literacy. 

What if I Don’t Understand a Handout?

If you’re having difficulty understanding materials or handouts provided by your doctor, let us know so we can make improvements. Contact us today with the name of the handout and the department or clinic you received it from:

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