Health Literacy

What do we mean by health literacy?

One definition is provided by Dr Irv Rootman and Deborah Gordon-El-Bihbety: “The Ability to access, understand, maintain and improve health in a variety of settings and across the life-course.”[1] But it also includes “The ability of professionals and institutions to communicate effectively so that community members can make informed decisions and take appropriate actions to protect and promote their health.”[2]

A patient’s health literacy is their ability to read, understand and use health care information to make informed  decisions and modify behaviors that affect their  personal healthcare needs.  Promoting health literacy among patients creates a more collaborative care environment, one that empowers patients to have greater agency in, and control over, their own care decisions.


Promoting Heath Literacy is an effective way to help patients feel in control of their care.

Incorporated into all of our learning modules is the objective that part of any interaction between patients and caregivers should promote the health literacy of the patient.

As we develop this area of practice , our interest is in providing practical approaches that can be sustained in practice settings. 

Contact us to learn more about our tools, curriculum, training and system redesign.

Tools and Resources:

Teach Back is a simple way clinicians can improve understanding.

Download our Teach Back Guide

Health Literacy and Adolescents: Some Novel Approaches

Children and young people (ages:7-18) need support in staying healthy. This is especially true when it comes to how they understand health information and when they think about what it means to be “healthy”. We call this their “health literacy”. Health literacy means their ability to understand and use information about their health.

Professor Deborah Begoray (University of Victoria) and Assistant Professor Patti Ranahan (Concordia University) conducted a webinar about new perspectives on health literacy and innovative programs that help young people and youth-serving professionals to use and understand health information. This webinar will be of interest to people working in health, education, child and youth care, social work and other interested groups.


Deborah Begoray (University of Victoria)
Patti Ranahan (Concordia University)



The More We Get Together: A Conversation About Health Literacy

These days it seems that the term Health Literacy is everywhere. But what is Health Literacy and why is it important? In this webinar recorded on November 5th, 2015, we explore these questions and engage in a conversation that looked at how a Health Literacy lens can improve health work. Through concrete, practical examples we also describe how Health Literacy can be incorporated into health and literacy work. This webinar will be of interest to practitioners in health and literacy fields as well as anyone interested in how Health Literacy affects and can improve practice.

The webinar was presented through a partnership between the BC Health Literacy Network , The Centre for Collaboration, Motivation and Innovation; and Decoda Literacy Solutions.


Connie Davis, MN, ARNP
Leona Gadsby, Decoda Literacy Solutions

Health Literacy Umbrella:

In 2011 teams from across BC worked to improve health literacy in their communities. Teams consisted of primary care practices, local literacy programs and health authority support. This video describes the key concepts for improving health literacy.

Here are some of our favourite Health Literacy Links:

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

US Department of Health and Human Services Health Literacy Page




[1] Public Health Association of Canada, 2008.

[2] Adapted from Rootman and Gordon-El-Bihbety, 2008 and Health and Literacy Partnerships, Focus on Basics, World Education, Vol.9, Issue B, September 2008.

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