The Fundamentals of Health Literacy

The Fundamentals of Health Literacy

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1674-3.ch001
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This chapter describes the overview of health literacy; the characteristics of functional health literacy, interactive health literacy, and critical health literacy; and the significance of health literacy in global health care. Health literacy is about how patients understand health information about health and health care, and how they apply that health information to their daily lives, utilize it to make health-related decisions, and act on it. Being able to understand health information and make decisions from that information is vital to patients' well-being. Health literacy can help patients prevent their health problems and protect their health, as well as better manage those problems and unexpected situations that happen. Patients with good health literacy make effective health decisions because they can find, understand, and evaluate the health information in global health care.
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The term literacy is globally used and it is often used to separate a technical understanding of reading and writing on one hand, and a wider understanding of communication on the other hand (Lundvall, 2015). Health literacy has been prioritized in public health and rigorously studied since the 1990s (Leung, Cheung, & Chi, 2015). Public health is concerned with protecting the health of populations which can be as small as a local neighborhood or as large as an entire country (Raghupathi & Raghupathi, 2013). Early research on health literacy focused on health outcomes among individuals with low health literacy (Leung et al., 2015). As health care moves toward greater choice, with shared responsibility and decision making between doctors and patients, a wide variety of resources and skills are needed by individuals if they are to be active participants in their health (Manning & Dickens, 2006).

Early definitions focused on the ability to apply reading, writing, and numeracy skills to the health-related materials, such as prescriptions, appointment cards, and medicine labels (Parker, Baker, Williams, & Nurss, 1995), while later conceptualizations encompassed a range of skills, including social and communication skills that enable people to obtain, understand, and use the health information in ways that enhance health, well-being, and engagement in the medical decision making (Nutbeam, 2000). Health literacy has been conceptualized in various ways (Nielsen-Bohlman, Panzer, & Kindig, 2004), and its scope have been widened during the last decade (Estacio, 2013). Health literacy has become a topic of significant interest among health and medical researchers during the past two decades, particularly in regard to its explanatory role in health disparities (Reeve & Basalik, 2014).

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