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Health Literacy in Australia

Info: 1479 words (6 pages) Essay
Published: 30th Nov 2017 in Health

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Health literacy was defined as “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions” (IOM, 2004, p. 32).Inotherwords, it is the person’s ability obtain and understand healthcare information and make decisions based on those information whilst following those instructions during the treatment process. Health literacy can contextual where demands are made as well as skill which is brought upon by the participating parties according to the situation ((Rudd, Moeykens, & Colton, 1999). According to the statistics almost 50 percent of the patient admitted that they are not familiar to basic information about healthcare. A successful treatment can be linked to be directly proportional to the health literacy and low level of this may lead to an unsuccessful treatment or the patient being wrongly diagnosed. As health literacy is directly related peoples health, those who have low level of health literacy are known to have poor health status than those having high level end experience a better life style regards to their overall health conditions. A good level of health literacy may allow people to make decisions that will allow them to make life changing decisions about their health Every day, people confront situations that involve life-changing decisions about their health. When people can obtain, communicate, process, and understand health information and services they are able to make decisions about health care. So, health literacy is more than just reading and having numeracy skills, but also includes elements such as cultural differences in society and health care provisions. “Limited health literacy” occurs when those involved are not able to get and use the information and services. Lack of clear information and its importance, people get into situation that may not be ideally desirable. Moreover, people with low level of health literacy are known to have a significant disadvantage to understand and execute medical treatments and prevent health care effectively which translates to their health. They have less or limited understanding about the medications, medical conditions and how to self-care.

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Health literacy level can be related to demography, economy and the way we communicate. It can be roughly categorized in terms of age, ethnicity, age and language. Among these categories people who have English as the second language seems to be the most affected with the low level of health literacy. As, we know that people responses to illness behaviors are culturally determined ( Smylie, Williams, & Cooper, 2006).In Australia there exists a large number of migrant population and a large part of that comes from non-English speaking countries or who have English as a second language. These are further exaggerated their cultural barriers and economic challenges for accessing the services As it is rare to a obtain and access information about primary health care other than English which sometimes may be a cause of major concern as migrant people may not have the satisfactory level English to know the effects and methods required for the desired final results. Migrant people are found to be affected by the health inequalities which are determined by the social determinants such where they were born, brought up, work and their age which are shaped through economy and resources. In Australia, people from various countries have migrated in search of their dreams and as they start journey most of them have a humble begging’s and the problem of health literacy arises for those who come as Asian countries and refugees as their origin being a non –English speaking and for most of them have not known at all but when they begin their life in Australia it is a different story as they have to come up with terms to know the language and access information in the language they have never known or access with makes their starting a very very hard.

Migrant people come to Australia with limited English speaking abilities which can be a serious issue. A good health care needs patients and medical professionals to discuss the problem and how to address those issues. Studies have shown that communication is the major factor in creating misunderstanding in patient health conditions as well as being wrongly diagnosed which may cause a major problem towards the final outcome on the overall patient health. Another issue regarding the health literacy and is the delaying in seeking health care for themselves and their children. They have admitted that language as the major barrier in health care as they find difficult to explain the problem and understand the complex and sensitive health issues.

As we now have established that the problems in health care is due to the failure to access, process and understand information about their health and the process. These problems are more significant in migrant peoples and people with low income which develops a level of inequality. Now, it is up to the clinicians to try to narrow this inequality and increase the overall health of these people whilst increasing their health literacy. Medical professionals need to innovative approaches in order to improve health literacy. They may opt to use evidence based strategies which address health literacy that may include interventions which is simplifying and improving information, using video or other targeted approaches to patient education, and improving patient–provider communication. They may adopt a user centered approach, use a universal precautions approach or targeting and tailoring communications as well as apply organizational changes. In a user centered approach health professionals may need to involver members of the target group in the design and testing process. They can also use proven designs that worked in the past. Using a universal precaution approach starts with a clear communication and should be the bottom line of every health information exchanges. As we know that medical professionals have a magic stick which can determine what is going on with a particular person simply just by looking so they need to use precautions which is true in the case of health literacy. For this very reason, health workers advocate in using a universal precautions approach to health communication as they, a high number of patients will have difficulty understanding health information. Parker and Kreps note that even though everyone will not be at the same health literacy level, it is always best to use the clearest language possible. Adopting universal precautions, health professionals must use clear communication with everyone, regardless of their perceived health literacy skills. Having targeted and tailored approaches to communication clinician’s display would allow them with self-management and health related outcomes with patients having limited literacy. Targeted approaches are adapted when we need to meet the needs of specific groups such as people with limited literacy skills. Tailored programs and communication are based on individual and unique requirements. As the health literacy among the people improves their expectations also increases so hospitals need to assess their weaknesses and strengths to improve the quality of health care.


Institute of Medicine (2009).Toward health equity and patient-centeredness: Integrating health literacy, disparities reduction, and quality improvement workshop summary.Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

  • Rudd, R., Moeykens, B. Colton, TC. (1999) Health and literacy: A review of medical and public health literature. In J. Comings, B. Garners, & C. Smith, eds. Annual Review of Adult Learning and Literacy, Volume I. New York, NY: Jossey-Bass.
  • Rudd, R . E., Anderson, J . E., Oppenheimer, S., & Nath , C. (2007). Health literacy: An update of public health and medical literature. In J. P. Comi ngs, B. Garner, & C. Smith. (E ds.),Review of adult learning and literacy(vol . 7) (pp 175–204). Mahwa h, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Health Literacy: Information for Clinicians at University of Washington Medical Center: http://depts.washington.edu/pfes/HealthLiteracy/HealthLiteracyUW.htm

Smylie, J., Williams, L., & Cooper, N. (2006). Culture-based literacy and Aboriginal health. Canadian journal of public health, 97, S21-S25.


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