June 2

10 Attributes of a Health Literate Organization


Russell Rothman, MD, MPP
Russell Rothman, MD, MPP

Dr. Russell Rothman discussed the Institute of Medicine’s 10 Attributes of a Health Literate Organization. He talked about how to put these attributes into practice. He listed health challenges in the U.S. “This is true not just for patients with limited health literacy, but for all of us,” he said.

Low quality of care is caused by many factors, including poor health literacy and health communication skills. One aspect of literacy is numeracy. There has been increasing concern about it, he said. Poor health literacy and numeracy are common. Studies have found that literacy and numeracy are associated with health behaviors, knowledge, and outcomes. Examples include understanding food and medicine labels and diabetes knowledge and control, he said.

Dr. Rothman listed some ways we can communicate better:

  • Use low literacy and picture-based materials
  • Individualize education
  • Teach concepts in a simplified manner
  • Use teach-back technique
  • Address cultural issues
  • Use shared goal setting

Studies have found that these strategies improve health outcomes, he said. But they do have limits: They focus on patient-provider communication, and they often don’t consider larger, system-level challenges related to health literacy.

Dr. Rothman listed the Institute of Medicine’s 10 Attributes of a Health Literate Organization and discussed some measures for assessing if an organization has these attributes. An organization can use these measures to address reporting, accountability, management, quality improvement, and research.

We don’t know yet which measures are the most scientifically valid, he said. “It’s a very young field. We didn’t get a lot of specific details about how they will use the measures.” Dr. Rothman closed by offering next steps for evaluating measures of health literacy. He invited the group to share their own measures.


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