Health literacy and patient information

Information for library and informational professionals working to improve access to health information for patients and the public

The workstream is led by Ruth Carlyle and Sue Robertson.

If you are a member of the public looking for help or information about a health condition, NHS.UK provides a comprehensive health information service with a wide range of resources.

Library professional in front of bookshelves
Hello, I'm interested in improving my health literacy. Can you help?

Non-urgent advice: Knowledge for Healthcare vision statement

NHS bodies, their staff, learners, patients and the public use the right knowledge and  evidence, at the right time, in the right place, enabling high quality decision-making, learning, research and innovation to achieve excellent healthcare and health improvement. 

Overview

NHS knowledge and information specialists work with NHS colleagues and with information providers in community settings to improve access to high-quality patient, health and well-being information.

Through access to the evidence base, NHS knowledge and library services staff equip healthcare colleagues to provide evidence-based information. 

They can also help to identify patient, health and well-being information in accessible formats, enabling NHS organisations to meet their legal obligations under the Accessible Information Standard

To make informed decisions, citizens also need to have health literacy skills – or skills to access, assess and use health information. 

NHS knowledge and library staff support healthcare colleagues and information providers in public libraries, prisons, schools and pharmacies to develop health literacy skills and techniques that they can then share with members of the public.  

The following resources help to equip knowledge and library services staff with health literacy techniques and also tools to promote evidence-based patient, health and well-being information. 

Health literacy 

Health literacy is the ability to access, assess and use health information to make decisions. 

Levels of health literacy in England are very low: 43% of working-age adults cannot understand textual health information, rising to 61% when a numeracy element is added (Rowlands et al. 2015); and 43% are unable to calculate paracetamol dosage for a child based on age and weight (Mayor, 2012). 

In an ageing population with increasing co-morbidities, patients and carers need to be sufficiently health literate to take self-prescribed medications safely and to make informed treatment choices.  

Health Education England’s national knowledge and library services team provides a suite of health literacy training resources. These range from training to provide health literacy awareness training to 15-minute introductions and e-learning.  

  1. Elearning on Health Literacy Awareness developed with NHS Education for Scotland
  2. 15-minute Health Literacy Introduction
  3. 1-hour Health Literacy Awareness Introduction.  Accredited by the Royal Society of Public Health.
  4. Health Literacy Awareness Training
  5. Health Literacy ‘Train the Trainer’ training

The health literacy e-learning was developed jointly by Health Education England and NHS Education for Scotland.  The e-learning covers core techniques, “teach back” and “chunk and check” alongside practical exercises on using pictures, simple language and how to offer help routinely. 

Image has you in the centre surrounded by  5 overlapping circles.  From top and moving clockwise they read: Teach Back; Chunk and Check; Use pictures; Simple language and Routinely offer help
Image has you in the centre surrounded by 5 overlapping circles. From top and moving clockwise they read: Teach Back; Chunk and Check; Use pictures; Simple language and Routinely offer help

Our ambition is to assist the health and care workforce, and information providers in the community, to enhance their communication skills and use appropriate techniques and resources to address the health literacy challenge.

Working with highly-experienced partners in this field, Health Education England will lead a cross-sectoral partnership, to build health literacy skills within the community.

This work will be informed by local priorities using geodata commissioned by Health Education England. 

Patient, health and wellbeing information 

NHS knowledge and library services play a key role in providing access to evidence.

Our resources demonstrate the value of involving knowledge and library services in the evidence base for patient, health and well-being information, making the case for NHS Libraries playing a role in providing patient and public health information 

For inspiration and support, librarians are encouraged to look at the examples of case studies and innovations already in progress elsewhere. 

Each year, we work with partners locally and nationally on Health Information Week. In 2021, Health Information Week is Monday 5th July to Sunday 11th July.  

This site also has an accompanying list of key resources.

Quality Improvement Outcomes Framework 

NHS knowledge and library services from June 2021 are reporting the impact of their services against the new Quality Improvement Outcomes Framework.

Outcome 2 states that all NHS decision making is underpinned by high quality evidence and knowledge mobilised by skilled library and knowledge specialists 

Examples for Outcome 2 include health literacy and patient information activity. 

Page last reviewed: 15 June 2021