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Health literacy is defined as the ability to read, understand, and act on health care information. A number of important studies have linked low health literacy in the U.S. to low quality of health, low patient compliance, and disparities in the quality of health care. These study results are not surprising given the complexity of medical terminology and biomedical concepts, coupled with the challenges of navigating the health care system.
The average American adult reads at an 8th grade level. However, 20% of Americans, mainly the elderly, disadvantaged, inner city residents and immigrants, read at the 5th grade level or below. Medical information is typically written at an 11th or 12th grade level, and is therefore not accessible to a large number of people residing in the United States.
While it is important to understand the scope and consequences of low health literacy, it is imperative that providers of health information take responsibility for clear health communication. The prior puts the onus on the individual to struggle to understand medical information; the latter lays the responsibility for creating jargon-free, easy to understand information on the creator of the information. This guide links to resources that assist the health care information provider communicate clearly and effectively.
The 2020-2021 President’s White Paper Project engaged nine students from the schools of dentistry, law, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, public health, and social work from the University of Maryland, Baltimore and the University of Maryland, College Park on a yearlong research project and conversation on health literacy. The topic centers on expanding the University's role in improving the relationship between provider and patient, therefore, allowing patients to be well-informed and active decision-makers in their health and the health of their families.