So, you have a Health Literate Health Care Organization…or do you?

In honor of October being Health Literacy Month, the DFWHC Foundation posted the following guest blog.

By Brennan Lewis, DNP, APRN, CPNP-PC/AC, PCNS-BC

Many of you have likely heard the phrase “health literacy” in one capacity or another, but what exactly do we mean when we discuss it? According to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, health literacy is essentially the degree to which an individual can understand health information and services to make appropriate decisions.

The Institute of Medicine Roundtable on Health Literacy says there are 10 attributes of a Health Literate Health Care Organization. Whether you are a team member or a patient of a health care system, let’s see how your respective organizations stack up:

1. Leadership makes health literacy integral to its mission, structure, and operations.

2. Integrates health literacy into planning, evaluation measures, patient safety, and quality improvement.

3. Prepares the workforce to be health literate and monitors progress.

4. Includes populations served in the design, implementation, and evaluation of health information and services.

5. Meets the needs of populations with a range of health literacy skills while avoiding stigmatization.

6. Uses health literacy strategies in interpersonal communications and confirms understanding at all points of contact.

7. Provides easy access to health information and services and navigation assistance.

8. Designs and distributes print, audiovisual, and social media content that is easy to understand and act on.

9. Addresses health literacy in high-risk situations, including care transitions and communications about medicines.

10. Communicates clearly what health plans cover and what individuals will have to pay for services.

So, how well did your health care organization score on the 10 attributes?
You may be thinking that your health care organization is doing well in a few of these categories. Or, you may feel a bit overwhelmed – you have a lot of room to improve. The reality is that many health care organizations score relatively low overall and mistakenly underestimate the impact health literacy has on both patient care and experience.

But really, you should feel encouraged. Armed with the right knowledge and an active, productive partnership between an organization and the patients and consumers it serves, you can achieve incredible progress across all of these important metrics. (See attribute No. 4 again!)

What can you do to help your organization become health literate?

Health Care Organizations
• Learn more by reading 10 Attributes of Health Literate Health Care Organizations at
• Identify who in your organization is championing health literacy.
• Ensure your patients and their families are helping your organization co-design processes.
• Incorporate health literacy as a strategy in your health care organization.

Patients/Health Consumers
• Find out how you can share your experience by positively partnering with your health care organization for improvements.
• Speak up and partner in your care. An organization must recognize that its patients, are also experts in their care.
• Don’t be afraid to ask questions to better understand your care. Learn about a health literacy tool called Ask Me 3 at

In summary, we all (hopefully) know that health literacy is important. It is our role as health care organizations and patients to ensure we make health literacy a priority. Health literacy is key to improving health outcomes, yet so often it is forgotten.

It goes beyond reading level. Health literacy includes how we help our patients access care, navigate complicated health systems, use health technology, understand their plan of care and more, so that they are able to engage in their care. Lastly, patients must be kept central in what we do by inviting them to the table to help co-design new processes that directly impact them, as well as include them as a part of the medical team. With the right information and understanding, patients will be empowered to make better health care decisions.