The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, commonly known as Obamacare, defines health literacy as the degree to which an individual can obtain, understand, communicate, process, and embody essential health information services to make appropriate healthcare decisions.
Health literacy is also defined on a broader public health and socio-cultural perspective, where it is perceived as a complex attribute with social interactions and complications.
To maintain their own health and the health of their families and communities, consumers rely heavily on the health information and education that is available to them. This information is at the center of the partnerships that patients and their families forge with today's complex modern health systems.
Health literacy happens when patients, caregivers, and the public truly understand information that clinician and other health professionals are saying, asking, and writing about. Health literacy as a whole is a hard concept hard to achieve.
Low health literacy is associated with a variety of barriers to improving health such as higher rates of hospitalization, less frequent use of preventative care services and increased healthcare costs for the patient. This information may be provided in a variety of methods ranging from a simple discussion between a patient and provider, wellness promotion, informed consent or one of the many other forms of health communication every day in our society. Yet, with all these tools and communication, millions of Americans are unable to understand or make decisions based on the information provided to them.
To bridge the gap of understanding, many healthcare providers will offer patients printed health information in the form of brochures, articles, and books. Some insurance companies, clinics, and other healthcare organizations will mail text-based information to the public or provide online health information.
Unfortunately, these efforts at promoting health information are inconsistent and highly dependent upon the level of public funding and geographic location, with the impoverished and rural populations at a significant disadvantage.
Individuals who cannot regularly visit healthcare organizations may not have access to these materials, and those who do have access may not understand how to navigate a library or even a health reference text if it is too complicated or scientific.