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Health literacy and person-centred care

Patients with limited health literacy could benefit from the person-centred care, as they seek respect and acknowledgement of their individual needs.
Elderly couple explaining something to a doctor.

The components of person-centred care found by Eklund et al. (2019) are also present in the systematic review by Jager et al. (2019). This last one is based on the idea that including the perspective of the patient is integral to effectively addressing person-centred care.

In the systematic review, patients with limited health literacy indicated that it is very important for them to be seen as a person and feel understood and respected. This is seen as a requirement for a trustworthy and good relationship with their healthcare provider. And this type of relationship facilitates patients to better understand information, and adhere to health professionals advice and recommendations.

The healthcare professionals’ interpersonal capacities is one of four themes identified in the review by Jager et al. (2019). Here, patients with limited health literacy described their perspectives on patient-provider relationships and what they think are important skills healthcare professionals should have. Patients mentioned the following:

  • Show respect and understanding Patients with limited health literacy feel that being seen as a person and feeling understood and respected is a requirement for a trustworthy and good relationship with their healthcare provider. And such type of relationship enables patients to ask questions, and to adhere to their provider’s advice. Patients with limited health literacy also want to feel supported by their healthcare providers, this could be achieved by showing concern for and a true interest in the patient.
  • Use a comprehensible communication style Patients with limited health literacy feel healthcare providers use medical jargon on many occasions, this leads to problems understanding medical information. Patients perceived the use of medical jargon as lack of communication, space which had a negative impact on their health, self-management behaviours, emotions, and mental well-being. So patients prefer simpler language. They also think healthcare providers should be careful of the amount of information they provide at a time, and align it to the patient’s needs. Many patients mentioned they prefer having diagnosis and treatment information given to them separately.
  • Involve patients in decision making according to their needs Patients with limited health literacy mentioned that when they receive information from their healthcare provider in an understandable way, and when they are engaged in decision-making about their own care, it results in better self-efficacy, self-management, and adherence to treatment. In spite of this, patients reported some barriers when trying to ask questions. Patients report they avoid asking questions, because they do not know or are unsure about what to ask, and/or they feel embarrassed to display a lack of understanding.

If we were to find links between person-centred care and the definition of health literacy (find the definition below), what would these be? Are they related at all? What are your thoughts? We invite you to share them in the discussion section.

Health Literacy has been defined as the cognitive and social skills which determine the motivation and ability of individuals to gain access to, understand and use information in ways which promote and maintain good health. Health Literacy means more than being able to read pamphlets and successfully make appointments. By improving people’s access to health information and their capacity to use it effectively, health literacy is critical to empowerment. (World Health Organization, 7th Global Conference on Health Promotion. Nairobi 2009)


Eklund, J. H., Holmström, I. K., Kumlin, T., Kaminsky, E., Skoglund, K., Höglander, J., … & Meranius, M. S. (2019). “Same same or different?” A review of reviews of person-centered and patient-centered care. Patient Education and Counseling, 102(1), 3-11.

Jager, M., de Zeeuw, J., Tullius, J., Papa, R., Giammarchi, C., Whittal, A., & de Winter, A. F. (2019). Patient Perspectives to Inform a Health Literacy Educational Program: A Systematic Review and Thematic Synthesis of Qualitative Studies. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(21), 4300.

Petersen, P. E., & Kwan, S. (2010). The 7th WHO Global Conference on Health Promotion-towards integration of oral health (Nairobi, Kenya 2009). Community Dental Health, 27(Suppl 1), 129-136.

© IMPACCT consortium
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Working with Patients with Limited Health Literacy

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