Attributes of a Health-Literate Organization

Steven Franklin, Product Marketing Manager


Healthcare is full of challenging topics that make it hard for individuals to understand their health and the health needs of loved ones. Helping people understand health topics—or improving health literacy—can be an integral part of improving health in your community. Patients who demonstrate understanding of health topics are 32% less likely to be hospitalized and 14% less likely to visit an emergency room.1

What is health literacy?

According to the CDC, health literacy has two parts:

“Personal health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the ability to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.”

“Organizational health literacy is the degree to which organizations equitably enable individuals to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.”

Further, only 12% of adults have proficient health literacy skills.2 This low health literacy rate means more costly care and longer hospital stays.3

One way to address the health literacy gap is by ensuring that healthcare organizations are health literate.

What makes a health-literate organization?

Health-literate organizations ensure health education is supported by leadership and is deeply engrained into a wide range of the organization’s everyday processes.

A health-literate focus can be found in a few key areas:

  1. Mission. Health-literate organizations make great efforts to focus their missions around helping patients and caregivers truly understand conditions that affect their daily lives.
  2. Planning and execution of strategy. Health-literate organizations plan organizational strategy around real and meaningful health education.
  3. Monitoring and reporting. Health-literate organizations monitor progress around increasing health literacy and have the right metrics to measure meaningful change. These metrics may include access to resources and/or health outcomes based on education.
  4. User focus. Health-literate organizations are focused on the needs of the people looking to learn more about a health topic. They avoid stigmatization and make education understandable for all.
  5. Access to information. Health-literate organizations ensure access to health education for the general population.
Two people read a healthcare webpage


How can education content support health literacy?

How your health education content is written and accessed plays a foundational role in improving health literacy. And you should provide education content that covers wide-ranging health topics.

However, simply offering content is not enough. That content needs to be effective at educating as many people as possible.

Attributes of effective content:

  1. Understandable
    Content that is understandable helps improve health literacy. The goal is content that’s simple, clear, and easy to understand by the largest audience possible. Content that is overly complex or written with too much medical terminology will not encourage learning and may leave readers feeling more overwhelmed or frustrated.

    Understandable content is:
    • Written to a basic education level (roughly a 6th grade reading level).
    • Focused on a few specific and targeted learning objectives.
    • Motivating and written with behavior change in mind.
  2. Accessible

    Health-literate organizations work to provide content to as many people as possible. Accessible content means that it’s easily found in a public location, easy to navigate, and is available to readers regardless of limitations they may or may not face.

    Accessible content is:
    • Available in multiple languages.
    • Designed to accommodate physical and learning limitations with combinations of images and text.
    • Available to all in a well-organized and public-facing location.
  3. Relatable

    A key attribute for improved health literacy is ensuring that content is relatable for diverse population groups. People relate to and learn best from health education that reflects them and their unique needs.

    Relatable content:
    • Uses current and accepted terminology. Times change, and the language we use to refer to various population groups should be accurate and up to date.
    • Represents diversity. Content is more relatable when people feel it speaks to them personally. Representing all body types and cultures helps make your content relatable and improves learning.
    • Does not make generalized assumptions. People are unique, and content should be written without assumptions about culture, background, or demographics.
  4. Multimedia

    Content is not one size fits all. Some people learn best visually, and some by reading. Providing multiple types of content, and combining content types where appropriate, is a good way to improve literacy.

    Multimedia content:
    • Leverages short, focused videos.
    • Provides visual aids to reinforce learning objectives.
    • Uses diverse imagery for inclusivity.

Health-literate organizations not only use content effectively to educate their populations but have a management-supported focus on improving health literacy for the general population. Leveraging quality and inclusive content to build equity is a key foundation of health literacy.

Learn more about how Healthwise Digital Experiences can help provide the content you need to power health literacy goals. We can also help you measure quality improvements and health outcomes based on health literacy programs.

1 Reduced Hospitalizations, Emergency Room Visits, and Costs Associated With a Web-Based Health Literacy, Aligned-Incentive Intervention: Mixed Methods Study
2 https://www.hhs.gov/surgeongeneral/reports-and-publications/health-literacy/index.html
3 https://www.chcs.org/resource/health-literacy-fact-sheets/