Health literacy is the combination of cognitive and social skills that is necessary for adequate response to information about health, illness and health care.
Subjects with limited health literacy often experience difficulty in understanding the information provided by health care professionals and finding their way in the health care system, with consequent increased morbidity and mortality.
Health literacy is a wider concept than literacy. Approximately 1.5 million people in the Netherlands, of which two thirds are of ethnic Dutch origin, have low literacy skills or are illiterate. The group with low health literacy is even larger.
Health care professionals, including physicians, must be able to recognise limited health literacy in order to react appropriately, for example by adapting information provision, checking understanding, supporting communication with visual aids, and making longer appointments.
Such measures may be expected to improve results, but investigation of their effectiveness is necessary.