Health literacy is about how people understand information about health and health care, and how they apply that information to their lives, use it to make decisions and act on it.

Health literacy is important because it shapes peoples health and the safety and quality of health care. Low levels of individual health literacy contribute to poorer health outcomes, increased risk of an adverse event and higher healthcare costs.

In August 2014 Australian, state and territory Health Ministers endorsed the Commission’s National Statement on Health Literacy as Australia’s national approach to addressing health literacy.

In the National Statement, the Commission proposes a coordinated approach to health literacy based on:

  • embedding health literacy into systems
  • ensuring effective communication
  • integrating health literacy into education.

The National Statement is supported by a background paper that provides an overview of health literacy in Australia and discusses strategies and actions required to address health literacy in a coordinated way.

Who can contribute to improving health literacy?

Everyone can play a part in addressing health literacy. For example:

  • Healthcare organisations can work with consumers to make sure that the information and services they provide are easy to understand, use and act on.
  • Healthcare providers can use a range of communication strategies to ensure patients understand their options and share their healthcare decisions.
  • Consumer organisations can support consumers to speak up about information and services that are hard to understand.
  • Health and education policy organisations can raise awareness and embed the principles of health literacy in their work.
  • People can improve their own health literacy by speaking up, asking questions or asking for help and support if they are provided with information or services that are hard to understand.

Commission’s work leading up to the National Statement

In 2012 the Commission undertook a stocktake of health literacy activities across Australia. This exercise gave an insight into the breadth of work that was being undertaken, however it became clear that the work was often unconnected and uncoordinated.

In 2013, the Commission drafted a background paper on health literacy and undertook an extensive consultation process on the topic. The Commission received over 100 submissions on the topic. A consultation report was prepared describing key issues and themes identified in the submissions.

The final version of the paper entitled, Health Literacy: Taking action for Safety and Quality was released in August 2014.

Accompanying this, the Commission has prepared a National Statement on Health Literacy which was endorsed by Health Ministers as the national approach to health literacy.


Resources for improving health literacy

Tools and resources for health services

A range of tools are available to help you improve health literacy in your organisation

Information for consumers

Information and resources are available to support you to be an active partner in your own care