Health literacy: report from an RCGP-led health literacy workshop

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This report sets out what health literacy is and the impact of poor health literacy.  It highlights good practice approaches for individual health professionals, and sets out recommendations for the role GPs should play in facilitating health literacy. 

The report summarises discussions at a meeting sponsored by NHS England and hosted by the Clinical Innovation and Research Centre (CIRC) of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) to discuss health literacy in the context of primary care.

The report argues that health literacy is needed for patients and the public to understand and act upon health information, to become active and equal partners in co-producing health, and to take control of their health to help to shape health environments and health services for themselves, their families and their communities.

It argues that health literacy is key to more effective use of resources, through increased understanding of how best to access and use health services, through confidence and skills to enable decision-making that is shared between doctors and patients, through to ensuring that patients take a full role in developing services that fit with the needs of local populations.

It sets out a number of roles for GPs in relation to health literacy, including

  • Improving communication skills, and tailoring information not only to clinical need but also to patient health literacy¬†
  • Working with NHS managers to develop health systems and environments accessible to all regardless of health literacy level
  • Supporting patients to develop health literacy skills, both in understanding and using health information, and in understanding their rights to clear, accessible information tailored not only to their clinical need but also to their health literacy
  • Acting as agents for change through their role as commissioners of health services.

It also argues that NHS commissioners should engage with local community networks and advocates, including the lifelong learning community.  It sets out that tools to check the effectiveness of communication, and surveys to check patient satisfaction, could be widened to include communication and health literacy. It also recommends that new initiatives must be targeted at those with the greatest need, including those with the lowest health literacy skills.

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