About health literacy

Health literacy is the term used to describe the ability to engage with health information and services.

What is health literacy?

Health literacy brings together many concepts that relate to what people and communities need to make effective decisions about health for themselves, their families and their communities.

Health literacy refers to the personal characteristics and social resources needed for individuals and communities to access, understand, appraise and use information and services to make decisions about health, or that have implications for health. Health literacy includes the capacity to communicate, assert and enact these decisions.

Health-related decisions may be about a person's own health, the health of another person, or the health of the community. These decisions may be made either by a group of people (e.g., a family or community) or an individual. The health literacy of individuals and communities includes (and is influenced by) health behaviours and the characteristics of society and the healthcare system. Further, it is context- and content-specific, so health literacy in one setting.

What is health-literacy responsiveness?

What is health-literacy responsiveness?

Individuals and communities can have health literacy strengths and limitations that influence how effectively they engage with health information and services. Health and social service systems can also have strengths and limitations in how they respond to the health literacy of the people they serve.

Health-literacy responsiveness describes the way in which services make health information, resources, supports and environments available and accessible to people with different health literacy strengths and limitations.

Health Literacy infographic

The Ophelia Health Literacy Response Framework

Each project that uses the Ophelia Approach generates ideas for new interventions or improvements to practice related to health literacy. These interventions and improvements contribute to the further development and refinement of the Ophelia Health Literacy Response Framework (HL-RF).

The Ophelia Health Literacy Response Framework (HL-RF) is a model that outlines the sorts of strategies required, across the different levels of the health system, to both:

  1. Optimise the health literacy of individuals and communities
  2. Respond to individuals with varying health literacy strengths and limitations

Effective responses to health literacy needs are those tailored to address each individual and community. These responses will usually be a mix of interventions that target:

  • the individual’s skills, knowledge, beliefs, motivation and confidence
  • the individual’s personal resources and supports
  • the information and care available to people in the community and its accessibility to those with varying health literacy needs and strengths
  • the capacity of health services and providers to respond to changes in the needs of people they serve
  • policies that promote assessment of health-literacy needs and focus efforts on targeted responses to identified needs
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