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The impact of limited health literacy on health outcomes

There is evidence that limited health literacy negatively impacts on patient’s health outcomes, an important consideration for health professionals.
Doctor and patient not speaking the same language
© IMPACCT consortium

When reviewing the scenarios in the video and the potential outcomes, the lack of attendance at appointments could mean that there is a delay in diagnosis and treatment.

A lack of understanding could result in people not taking their medication as prescribed. For example, they could be taking a sub-optimal dose, which does not treat their condition or they could be taking too much medication, resulting in serious side effects. In both these examples the implications for health are that the patient will have poorer health outcomes. This is reflected in the research evidence.

The seminal work by Berkman et al. (2011) supports the argument for the need for health care professionals to address unmet health literacy needs for peoples’ health. It is not just about improving patients’ experiences and satisfaction with healthcare, it actually makes a difference to the outcome of their healthcare. Read the abstract for a summary of this systematic review of the evidence by Berkman et al (2011).

That the evidence indicates that levels of health literacy are linked to health outcomes with limited health literacy resulting in negative health consequences for people, informs the WHO assertion that health literacy is a critical determinant of health (World Health Organization’s Shanghai Declaration on promoting health in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (WHO, 2016)).

Discuss with other learners about why knowing that health literacy impacts on health outcomes is important for healthcare professionals?

© IMPACCT consortium
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Working with Patients with Limited Health Literacy

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