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Health Literacy for Interprofessional Education (IPE) eToolkit


Patients with low health literacy may be hard to detect in clinical practice. Many patients with low health literacy suffer shame around their inability to read and understand health information and will go to great lengths to hide it. Patients with low health literacy are often invisible - just as if we walk into a room we cannot tell who has cancer, we cannot tell by looking who has low health literacy.

Research shows that patients in the following demographic groups suffer disproportionately from low health literacy:

  • low income individuals
  • seniors, those over age 65
  • the unemployed
  • immigrants & minorities; individuals whose native language is not English
  • people who didn’t graduate high school or who have a GED
  • people with chronic mental or physical health conditions

More importantly, health literacy crosses all socioeconomic groups. Since recent data indicates 1 in 2 adults struggle with health literacy, it's important for healthcare professionals to recognize the pervasiveness of this issue in their practice. This section will help you recognize common behaviors exhibited by patients with low health literacy so you can adjust your approach to better meet their needs. Research shows even highly literate patients prefer their health and medical information to be shared and explained in easy-to-understand terms. The bottom line? It's best to use your professional health literacy skills in all patient and interprofessional encounters. This approach is known as using Universal Precautions for Health Literacy and more may be learned about this approach in the corresponding section of this eToolkit.

Identifying Patients with Low Health Literacy