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Health Literacy

What is health literacy?

Health literacy is the ability to obtain, communicate, process, and understand information about health. People need these skills to make good decisions about their health.

But nearly nine of every ten adults do not have the basic skills they need to manage their health (From Quick Guide to Health Literacy Fact Sheet: Health Literacy Basics, US Department of Health and Human Services).

Nearly 9 out of 10 people lack the skills they need to manage their health.

Nine in ten people lack the skills they need to be healthy.

We can help!

The Community Education Program helps MaineHealth member organizations improve their patient communication by providing these services free to MaineHealth member organizations:

  • Staff training on patient-centered communication including health literacy, plain language and teach-back.
  • Material review and development, including readability assessments
  • Testing materials for usability with focus groups, individual interviews, and user testing

Contact Jess to find out how we can help your practice with health literacy. Our services are free to MaineHealth member organizations.

Why does health literacy matter?

Health literacy has a real impact on health outcomes and the use of health services:

  • Use of preventive services. People with limited health literacy are less likely to use preventive services such as mammograms or colon cancer screening.
  • Knowledge about conditions. They are more likely to have a chronic condition but less likely to know how to manage it.
  • Hospitalization. They are more likely to go to the hospital.
  • Health status. They are more likely to report poor health status.
  • Healthcare costs. They are more likely to use costly health services.

(From Quick Guide to Health Literacy Fact Sheet: Health Literacy and Health Outcomes, US Department of Health and Human Services)

What can you do?

There are many things you can do to help patients understand and use health information. The two most commonly used, evidence-based approaches are to:

  • Use plain language when talking or writing for patients and families.
  • Use teach-back with patients and families to check for understanding.


Plain-Language Checklist for Creating and Reviewing Your Materials


Use this quick, 2-page checklist when creating or reviewing materials.

Interactive online version

PDF version

Before and After Examples

Guidelines to Effective Print Communication

A Guide to Creating and Evaluating Patient Materials: Guidelines for Effective Print Communications

New to health literacy and plain-language writing? Start with this document!

PDF version

Locations in Falmouth -  Scarborough | 1-866-609-5183 or Contact us