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What is health literacy and why is it important?

27 October 2020

October is Health Literacy month. Chair of Austin Health’s Health Literacy Committee, Kathy Maggs explains what health literacy is and why it's important. 

"By understanding and improving our health literacy, we can improve our health outcomes," says Kathy. 

What is health literacy?

Health literacy is about how people access and understand information about their health and health care. It’s also about how they apply this information to their lives and use it to make decisions. 

Why is it important?

Kathy explains that health literacy is important, because it leads to better health outcomes for patients. 

"It's about partnering with your healthcare professionals.

“By making sure we understand each other and work together, you will have a better understanding of your health condition, your treatment options and the care you need.

“We want to empower you to make informed health choices," says Kathy. 

Kathy says that health literacy isn’t just important for when you’re in hospital, but allows you to understand the actions you need to take at home to best support your safety, wellbeing and health. 

"Examples of this is include knowing how and when to take your medications, as well as things such as how to perform at home rehabilitation exercises, caring for yourself after surgery and much more," she says. 

Kathy has some practical health literacy tips for patients and their loved ones:

  • Let staff know if you need a spoken language, Auslan interpreter or communication device. These services are also available when having a Telehealth consultation.
  • It’s always ok to ask questions of your treating clinician. Some questions you might want to ask are: What’s my main problem? What are my options? What do I need to do?
  • Let your treating clinician know if you’re unsure about the information they've shared and ask them to explain it in another way.
  • Let staff know if you need a friend or family member with you.
  • Let staff know if you need the information written down.
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Austin Health acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging.
We celebrate, value and include people of all backgrounds, genders, sexualities, cultures, bodies and abilities.