During October, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Office of Minority Health (OMH) recognizes Health Literacy Month. CMS encourages healthcare providers to make health information easier for their patients to understand and navigate.
Healthy People 2030—an initiative that identifies public health priorities to help individuals, organizations, and communities across the United States improve health and well-being across a 10-year timeframe—addresses both personal health literacy and organizational health literacy. According to Healthy People 2020:
- Personal health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the ability to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.
- Organizational health literacy is the degree to which organizations equitably enable individuals to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.
These definitions allows for the emphasis of people’s ability to use health information rather than just understand it, focus on the ability to make “well-informed” decisions rather than just “appropriate” ones, incorporate a public health perspective into decision making, and acknowledge that organizations have a responsibility to address health literacy.
Hispanic adults have been shown to have the lowest level of health literacy among racial and ethnic groups, followed by Black adults and American Indian/Alaskan Native adults. Additionally, Spanish-speaking adults have an increased likelihood of inadequate health literacy, when compared to English-speaking adults.
Those with low health literacy are more likely to use the emergency department. And parents’ health literacy levels impact health outcomes for children.
The effects of low health literacy can be particularly pronounced for those over 65, with low health literacy possibly leading to poor physical functioning, pain, limitations of daily activities, and poor mental health status.
To mark Health Literacy Month, CMS is highlighting resources that can help providers better explain the services that are available to their patients through their health coverage:
- Review and share Coverage to Care resources, which help patients understand their health coverage and connect to primary care and the preventive services that are right for them. Resources are available in Spanish.
- Download Coverage to Care Prevention Resources to explain the preventive services available to adults, teens, children, and infants for little or no cost under most health care plans. Resources are available in Arabic, Chinese, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese.
- Share Getting the Care You Need: A Guide for People with Disabilities, which empowers patients with disabilities by explaining their rights to accessible care. This resource is available in Arabic, Chinese, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese.
- View Improving Communication Access for Individuals who are Blind or have Low Vision and Improving Communication Access for Individuals who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing , which outline how to assess practices for accessibility, develop communication plans, and be prepared to implement accessible services.
- Review Building an Organizational Response to Health Disparities – Resource Guide, which describes resources and concepts key to addressing disparities and improving healthcare quality throughout an organization.
Download the Guide to Developing a Language Access Plan, which helps assess programs and develop language access plans to ensure persons with limited English proficiency have meaningful access to care and services.