Why Health Literacy?

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A young woman with an ankle sprain spends six hours on a Sunday in the emergency room because that’s where the recording on her doctor’s office phone “told her to go.”

An elderly man skips over significant portions of the patient information form at his new cardiologist because he doesn’t understand the questions.

A diabetic patient never makes her follow up appointment because she’s too embarrassed to admit that she didn’t understand how to monitor her blood sugar.

Health Literacy – What Is It?

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.” In plain English, health literacy means that you, no matter what your background, have the right information and the right understanding to make good healthcare decisions for yourself and those you love.

And a large segment of the country can’t say they have that understanding. According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL), 36% of the U.S. adult population (87 million people) have basic or below basic health literacy.

Why Is It so Important?


How does it get more personal than your health and that of your loved ones? Patients with low health literacy make more mistakes when it comes to medicine, lack the confidence to ask their doctor important questions, and can unknowingly withhold vital information from those caring for them. And they spend more time in emergency rooms, are hospitalized more frequently, are less likely to use preventative care, and have high mortality rates.


It’s been estimated that low health literacy costs the U.S. approximately $106 billion to $236 billion annually. But closer to home, individuals with low health literacy spend $2,500 more per year for medications and spend $500 more for office visits.

What Can Libraries Do?

Be the Safe Space

Librarians are in the unique position of likely being the most non-judgmental person from whom a patient may seek health information. Asking open-ended questions and knowing how to respect a patron’s privacy is key. Librarians can also see how other factors, such as overall literacy, affect a patron’s ability to seek out and understand health information.

Build a Consumer Health Collection That Meets the Needs of your COMMUNITY

Librarians know better than anyone else what the health information needs are in their area. An increase in age-related illnesses, struggles with addiction, teens looking to understand their changing bodies are just some of the possibilities. Resources must be written at a level that struggling patrons can understand AND searches in online sources must take into account the struggles patrons have when presenting their health information needs.

Partner with Local Health Advocacy Groups

Particularly in public libraries, programs are a key aspect of reaching patrons with low health literacy, and partnering with local health advocacy groups that reflect the social and cultural needs of patrons make success that much more possible.

What Is Omnigraphics Doing?

Trusted Sources, Plain Language

Our Health Reference Series and Teen Health Series are drawn from publications created by trusted government, nonprofit, and other institutions. We focus on sources that speak plainly and then we present that information in an easy-to-understand way.

Search that Supports Understanding

The natural-language search in our Health Reference Series Online helps focus patrons so they can find the information most relevant to them.

Putting Librarians in Charge

By selecting which volumes they want in their Health Reference Series online database, librarians can tailor their collection to exactly the needs of their patrons.

Connecting Libraries to Local Resources

We know finding the right partners is a challenge so look to us to for ways to find the right resources to address your program needs.

Connecting to Our Own Community

We are committed to advocating for health literacy here in Detroit, and you’ll see that commitment in our own partnerships and our social media.

Advocating and Listening

In the world of “alternative facts” and quickly changing healthcare priorities, we’ll be focused relentlessly on health literacy and making sure libraries and their powerful role in the community is not forgotten.

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