What is health literacy, and why does it matter in 2022?

This month on Wellness Weekly, we’ve been talking about setting SMART goals to improve your health and wellness in 2022 and gave some suggestions for goals you might want to take on this year. We’re wrapping up the month by talking about health literacy, and how building your health literacy skills can contribute to achieving the health goals you’ve set for yourself this year.

What is health literacy?

The dictionary defines health literacy as ‘the degree to which an individual has the capacity to obtain, communicate, process and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions.’ 

To break it down a bit further, health literacy is:

  • Knowing where to seek treatment for your medical needs
  • Being confident and comfortable talking through your medical needs with your chosen healthcare professional
  • Understanding the information that is being shared with you.

Having strong health literacy skills enables you to make good decisions about your health and wellness, based on the knowledge you have. Your health literacy affects not just your health, but also your daily life – including your happiness, your ability to live a fulfilling life, and your ability to be there for the people you love.

Why does my health literacy matter?

One of the best things you can do to take better care of your health is to build a deeper understanding of how to do so.

Have you ever delayed taking a step towards a healthier you because you aren’t sure where to start? Maybe you’ve avoided going to the doctor or for medical tests because you aren’t sure of the language and terms to use to describe a health issue, or you don’t know how to check whether your health insurance offers coverage for a particular health provider. Building your health literacy can give you the tools to get started, helping you to make informed decisions and even where to go to take the first step in taking care of yourself.

How do I go about improving my health literacy?

We’ve got a few suggestions for you below. Remember – this information doesn’t just apply to your doctor! Consider the following ideas the next time you meet with your dentist, physiotherapist, or other health provider as well.

  • Know where to start for the different questions you may have about your health. The Canadian healthcare system is complex, and it can be tough to know where to start. Learn how to navigate the Saskatchewan healthcare system here.
  • Prepare for your health appointments in advance. Taking notes for yourself about the health problems you’re facing, reviewing your own medical history, or preparing a list of questions you want to ask can go a long way in helping you to get the answers you need.
  • When your health provider use a word or phrase you don’t understand, ask them to pause and explain what they mean. The benefits are twofold – you’ll be able to understand what they mean in the moment, and you’ll take that newfound knowledge forward with you for the future.
  • Seek additional information following your appointments. That could mean asking for supplemental materials that can help you understand the information you’ve been given, or booking a follow-up appointment with your provider after you’ve had time to process the information.
  • Be aware that not everything you read on the internet is true. Check out this article on how to evaluate whether a source should be trusted, and where to find information you can rely on.

For more information about health literacy, how it affects you, and how you can strengthen your skills, check out our introduction to health literacy here. You can also view our library of resources to build your knowledge here.