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October 14, 2015

October is Health Literacy Month

October is Health Literacy Month 

It’s estimated that more than 90 million Americans have low health literacy, which means they may not be able to understand health information, make informed choices about their care, navigate our complex health care system or communicate effectively with their health care team or families. This can lead to confusion, compromised patient safety and costly medical mistakes.

Low health literacy can affect anyone, even those with a college degree or a career in health care.

The Joint Commission calls upon health care providers to provide effective communication for patients and families and to integrate health literacy concepts into their day-to-day practice. However, not all providers have the needed health literacy skills or training to do so. Listed below are several strategies for promoting health literacy and resources which can be helpful to all health care professionals, regardless of their familiarity with the subject.

Strategies to improve health literacy focus on improving written and spoken communication, self-management and empowerment and supportive systems. Here are some things you can do:                 

Spoken Communication

  • Give the most important information first
  • Use plain non-medical language instead of medical terms
  • Limit and repeat content
  • Slow down
  • Always use the Teach-Back Method - confirm that patients understand what they need to know and do by asking them to explain back important information in their own words.

Written Communication


  •  Focus on need to know or need to do information.
  • Use active voice and plain language – write information that is easy to understand.
  • Keep sentences short and words to 2 syllables or less when possible.
  • Test your document’s reading level although be aware that reading level alone is not a guarantee that a document will be easy to read. Learn more about writing and designing easy-to-read materials for patients or work with someone who is trained in this area.
  • Ask patients to evaluate your forms and other written materials. User feedback is key.
  • Be careful when using numbers – many people struggle with limited numerical literacy as well. 


  • Use font sizes between 12 and 14 points. For headings, use a font size at least 2 points higher than the main text.
  • Leave lots of white space on the page – at least ½ inch to 1 inch for margins and between columns.
  • Use headings and sub-headings to help break up the text and group key messages together.
  • Break up text with bullet points but be careful not to use too many.
  • Use visuals - make sure they are easy-to-understand and culturally relevant and sensitive. 

Self-management and empowerment

  • Encourage questions – patients may not feel comfortable asking questions or they may feel you’re too busy. Asking patients what questions they have and saying you have the time to answer them can be very helpful.
  • Use open ended questions such as: “What other questions do you have?” or “This information may be very new to you and I expect you have some questions. What would you like to know more about?”
  • Use body language to invite questions – sit, don’t stand.
  • Look at patients when talking and listening – try not to interrupt. 

Supportive systems

  • Assess each patient’s needs and support system.
  • Link patients to other support systems when needed, such as social work and financial counselors. 

Source: AHRQ Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit, 2nd edition

Cultural Inclusion and Awareness Series

The Case CCC Minority Accrual Committee (MAC) would like to introduce a new name, Cultural Inclusion and Awareness Series for the Cultural Competency Series.  The new name will allow the Committee to broaden the Series scope and post information which will have more research focus. 

September 19, 2017: Engaging Underrepresented Racial/Ethnic Populations in Clinical Trials

June 15, 2017: Health Disparities Data Widget

May 8, 2017: FDA Drug Trials Snapshots and Diversity When Testing New Drugs

December 1, 2016: SRHEC Debuts Cultural Competency Resource Guide and White Paper

April 5, 2016: National Minority Health Month

December 15, 2015: Case Comprehensive Cancer Center Cultural Competency Series

November 18, 2015: Cultural Competency and the Informed Consent Process

October 14, 2015: October is Health Literacy Month

October 2, 2015: Unconscious Bias: Cancer Clinical Trial Disparities in Racial and Ethnic Minority Populations

August 24, 2015: Revised: Case CCC Clinical Research Brochure for African Americans

July 17, 2015: Reshaping Research: A Guide to Integrating Cultural Considerations into Research

June 19, 2015: What We Really Talk About When We Talk About Food

May 18, 2015: Think Cultural Health

March 30, 2015: Implicit Bias: An Introduction

February 9, 2015: Eliciting the Patient's Experience of Illness through Narrative and Reflection

January 26, 2015: Cultural Competency and the Research Process

January 12, 2015: Understanding Cultural Competency: Definitions and Concepts

December 8, 2014: Operationalizing Culturally Competent Research