Skip to main content

Health Literacy

What is health literacy?

Health literacy is the ability to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.

Why is health literacy important?

At any point in time, 9 out of 10 Americans do not have the health literacy skills to be able to fully manage and make truly informed choices about their health. This leads to higher risks of chronic conditions, death, hospitalizations and ER visits.

Peoples’ personal level of health literacy can change depending on the situation and the stress they are under. This means that anyone is at risk for having limited health literacy at any time.
Taking steps to improve health literacy for patients can have widespread benefits, such as:

  • Better health outcomes for patients
  • Higher patient satisfaction
  • Higher quality of care provided to patients
  • Time, money, and resources saved across the MaineHealth system

What does health literacy look like?

Because anyone, at any time can have limited health literacy, it’s important to use health literacy universal precautions. This means using techniques to improve health literacy, such as plain language and teach-back, with all patients and in all educational and patient-facing materials.

  • Plain language, also called “living room language”, is an approach to creating information that is understandable and usable. It involves using words that everyone can understand, short sentences, and replacing medical jargon with a plain language alternative.
  • Teach-back is a tool that helps ensure the patient has understood the information provided to them. This interactive teach-back learning module helps providers learn how to use the teach-back method with patients to confirm understanding.

How does MaineHealth support health literacy?

MaineHealth plays an essential role in giving patients and communities health information and, as such, strives to be a health literate organization. MaineHealth has a team of Health Literacy Specialists dedicated to providing health literacy support for our care teams.

The Education & Training team supports health literacy at MaineHealth by:

  • Providing a best practice workflow for developing patient-centered education.
  • Training care team members in health literacy best practices and the teach-back method.
  • Ensuring access to multiple modalities for delivering patient-centered education, including an online self-paced class platform.

How can MaineHealth care teams access health literacy resources?

Contact us! All MaineHealth employees can request help with patient education development or health literacy-related trainings by contacting the Education & Training team: