News & Information


Health Literacy

Q. What exactly do we mean by health literacy?
A. Health Literacy is about being able to read, understand and act on health care information.

Health literacy impacts a person's ability to effectively manage their health care decisions on many levels. These include things like:

  • difficulties in finding health care providers and services
  • filling out forms
  • communicating personal and health information to providers
  • managing chronic diseases (their own or those of a family member)
  • being able to link the relationship between lifestyle choices and health outcomes
  • not knowing or recognizing signs when to seek medical care or when to call 911 for help
  • not understanding or misunderstanding, medical terminology

Please note that even people with advanced literacy skills can feel overwhelmed by health care information or the health care system!
Is this really a problem? The numbers speak for themselves:

  • Nearly half of all American adults (90 million people) have difficulty understanding and using health information

Health literacy differs from general literacy because it also includes the ability to process numbers and complex health information. People also need to be able to navigate the health care system. In order to do this, individuals may need to be:

  • visually literate -- able to understand graphs and other visual information
  • computer literate -- able to operate a computer to go online
  • information literate –able to obtain and apply relevant information
  • language literate -- able to understand and grasp medical terminology

Health information literacy, in relation to information, is more than just reading! What can you do to improve your health literacy? Here are some suggestions:

  • If you do not understand something you doctor has said, ask for it to be repeated or explained in simpler language
  • Repeat instructions back to the doctor to make sure you have understood them
  • If you have a new device to use, demonstrate it yourself to make sure you are using it correctly
  • Take notes or have someone come with you to take notes for you
  • If you don't feel comfortable taking notes, ask the doctor if you can tape record the information you are given so you can replay it later
  • If you are looking up medical information on the internet, make sure you are using reputable sites, such as your hospital's web site, the National Library of Medicine's web site,, or the web site of the United States Department of Health and Human Services,

Health Quizzes
To assess how much you know about heart attack, stroke and some common medical terms, please take our quizzes. You might learn something that could possibly save your life or someone else's!
Heart Attack Quiz | Stroke Quiz | Medical Terminology Quiz

Also please take a moment to give us feedback through our survey so that we can continue to improve our ability to help you with your health care information needs. Click here to take the survey.

Additional Information
For more information about heart health visit the Trinitas Cardiology Department

This project has been funded in whole or in part with Federal funds from the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, under Contract No. NO1-LM-6-3501 with New York University