Health Literacy 101: An Introduction to the Field

Michael Villaire, MSLM

Michael Villaire, MSLM

Michael Villaire’s preconference session provided an introduction to the topic of health literacy for the conference’s first-year attendees, or as a refresher for those who had attended before.

He began his talk by reviewing definitions of literacy and health literacy. He noted that commonly used definitions of health literacy emphasize patients’ ability to obtain, use, and apply health information in their everyday life. He noted most definitions place the burden of understanding and using health information on the patients themselves, rather than the providers. He stated his preference for the Calgary Charter definition of health literacy: “Allowing the public and personnel working in all health-related contexts to find, understand, evaluate, communicate, and use information.”

There are many components of health literacy: reading, writing, listening, speaking, numeracy, self-efficacy, and cultural and belief systems. “People will have different interpretations of the information you present to them; remember to always be mindful of that,” he said.
Villaire provided a number of examples to show how easy it is for a patient to misinterpret information. He also shared clips from the AMA Foundation video of patients with limited health literacy. He closed the session with data on the costs of limited health literacy, amounting to between $106 billion and $238 billion per year.