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The Health Literacy Environment of Hospitals and HealthCenters: Partners for Action: Making Your Healthcare Facility Literacy-Friendly

Reports from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) use the following definition of health literacy:

The degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.

At the same time, however, both the HHS report Communicating Health: Priorities and Strategies for Progress and the IOM report Health Literacy: A Prescription to End Confusion propose an expanded understanding of the term so that both the skills of individuals and the demands of health systems are considered. The health literacy environment of a healthcare facility represents the demand side of the equation suggested by the IOM – the expectations, preferences, and skills of those providing health information and services. The purpose of this guide is to enhance communication and, at the same time, help reduce the literacy demands patients face in hospitals and health centers.