Health literacy training is important for people of all ages

Learning how to maintain good health and understand the health care system can – and should – start early in life and continue throughout. Adolescents are already becoming increasingly involved in their own health care, using health information learned in school and through the media to inform their own actions and behaviors.1 As more young people engage in their own health care, educators and health professionals have the opportunity to help teach them the basic skills needed to adopt and practice healthy behaviors, as well as how they can best navigate the health care system.

Health literacy (or the degree to which a person is able to process and understand basic health information) is a crucial element of being informed about your own health and the health care system at large. That’s why the Minnesota Health Literacy Partnership recommends health literacy be taught to people of all ages, as a key priority of the Minnesota Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy.

Here are some ways that educators and health professionals can share health literacy with people of all ages:

  1. Provide health literacy education in K-12 schools. Being “health literate” means you understand the basic vocabulary and processes of the health care system. High schools often provide students with basic money management and financial literacy skills. Schools should consider adding a curriculum on health literacy.
  2. Develop health literacy content for adult learners.Health care and insurance can be overwhelming for all ages. Community education courses could consider offering courses facilitated by a local health professional or integrate health literacy into curricula at all levels. Courses could target specific demographics, such as new immigrants or senior citizens to ensure that health literacy education opportunities are accessible for a diverse range of people. Participation could be made even more accessible by offering the classes for free.
  3. Train health professionals in health literacy. Health professionals, insurance representatives, and others in the health industry speak a language that can be difficult for many people to understand. To help give professionals the tools they need to communicate more clearly, health literacy best practices - such as the teach-back method2 - could be incorporated into current courses and trainings provided for health students and professionals at all levels. Continuing education courses on health literacy could be encouraged for health professionals, as well as others who work with patients and clients, such as human resources personnel and social workers.

To learn more about the teach-back method or to access training materials for education programs click here and scroll down to “training materials.”

For additional training materials and ways to develop an organizational plan, visit the CDC website.

1Gray NJ, Klein JD, Noyce PR, et. al.  Health information-seeking behavior in adolescence: The place of the internet.  Social Science & Medicine. 2005; 60(7): 1467-1478.

2Minnesota Health Literacy Partnership.  Teach-back program.

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