Health Literacy and Communication

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Generally, inadequate communication techniques within health care settings contribute to the problem of poor health literacy among individuals.

Consequently, some people find it difficult to remember, understand, and apply the information from health care providers in daily living (Vass et al. 2011).

Apart from hospital setting, health literacy is influenced by other factors such as cultural background and beliefs.

Therefore, health care providers have invested efforts in improving the communication patterns in order to realize an effective transfer of literacy skills to the public.

Effective communication for diverse cultures enhances health literacy which in turn equips the patients with the ability to retain and apply medical information essential for healthy living (Brach et al. 2012).

In an environment without appropriate literacy levels, there is higher rate of hospitalization, emergency visits, and mortality rate.

However, effective health knowhow results in high participation in prevention strategies and hence lowers the government expenditure on health service provision (Vass et al. 2011).

Effective Health Communication

Communication is the means by which information is passed and received.

The act of communicating a given message enables transmission of ideas which influences behavior.

Within the health environment, communication is a crucial tool for delivering services to the patients and the public by extension.

According to Kreps (2009), both the consumers and providers of health care rely on effective communication strategies for the purposes of understanding modern complexities and promotion in health services.

Additionally, communication improves efficiency responding and retaining relevant health information which may be important in initiating disease prevention measures.

Through effective communication, patients get to know the purpose of taking particular prescriptions thus treatment is administered with full consent.

Moreover, proper communication helps the patients to understand the side effects of drugs and so plan for precautionary measures.

If details pertaining a given medical treatment is not clearly understood, patients may receive inappropriate treatment inconsistent with the body function leading to additional health complications.

Some of the sources of ineffective communication include: assumptions on what patients know or want, language barrier, incorrect interpretation of messages due to cultural differences, and different communication protocols (Durey et al., 2012).

According to Rimal and Lapinski (2009), communication can be viewed be viewed within the two concepts of transmission and ritualistic functions.

The transmission role is whereby communication serves as a tool for knowledge transfer and acquisition.

On the other hand, the ritualistic role defines the meaning obtained from the information which reflects a person as part of a social community.

Therefore, communication entails the aspect of shared meaning as well as its interpretation.

In this regard, different individuals derive diverse understanding of relayed information which is also influenced to a large extent by the cultural background.

According to Bachmann et al. (2016), the process of interpreting information takes individual and social perspectives which gives rise to selective exposure and perception.

The individual factors include efficacy, beliefs, prior experience and knowledge.

On the other hand, social factors include cultural patterns, norms, and relationships.

Consequently, health practitioners must learn and master appropriate communication strategies which are effective for passing information to particular cultural settings.

Such measures for good communication helps in mitigating discrepancies between the disseminated and received message.

Similar views are expressed by Lie et al. (2012) who note that the first step towards addressing cultural differences and low health literacy among patients is to deploy effective communication skills.

The practice of treatment does not only lie with the healthcare provider but also involves the patients in question.

In order to achieve the best in treatment, the patient should be empowered.

Therefore, effective communication provides the opportunity of empowering the patients by sharing relevant knowledge about a given condition (Bischoff & Denhaerynck, 2010).

The basic areas of empowerment include disease prevention, quality of life, and health promotion.

For a successful communication process, the health care practitioners must put into consideration the cultural diversities and to select the correct language which may not seem offensive to the audience.

In this regard, it is essential to consider the components such as channel, source, and language.

Thus, effective health communication has a key role of transforming public health behavior to receive treatment and exercise prevention measures (Bischoff & Denhaerynck, 2010).

Effective health communication helps in enhancing patient satisfaction.

The manner of approaching the patients and handling their conditions speaks a lot about attitude and subsequent improvement.

Therefore, it is not just about how knowledgeable a nurse might be, but also depends on the mode of expression.

Effective line of communication should be established in every health center to enhance information transfer and develop understanding between the customers and providers.

Other than patient satisfaction, effective communication creates good public awareness on matters pertaining to health care.

Basically, the role of public health communication is to change perception orientation towards health services and living.

In the case of cultural barrier to health care provision, communication serves as the interventional tool for promoting change and provoking influence (Pleasant et al. 2011).

As a result, health communication programs are essential for shaping attitudes, increasing knowledge and transforming behaviors towards effective health provision.

Through communication, individuals derive reasons for health care activities and so are able to adhere to health living.

Moreover, effective communication makes it easy for health practitioners to deliver services such as treatment and prevention plans.

Finally, communication allows for the coordination and organization of public level health intervention strategies which results in health outcomes for the community.

Consequently, effective health communication ensures culturally safe health care environment though sharing knowledge with the public.

Health Literacy

Health literacy may be defined as the ability of a person to access, understand and follow health information (Wynia & Osborn, 2010).

The concept of health literacy has increasingly become of interest both nationally and internationally for health care institutions and governments.

According to Lowell et al. (2014), literacy skills are important in determining the quality and safety of health care.

However, the impact of health literacy is influenced by cultural and linguistic diversities resulting in complexities in health care.

Therefore, a balance must be achieved between culture in health in order to realize effective service delivery and mutual benefit of the public and providers.

In this regard, Coleman et al. (2008) asserted that health literacy involves the ability to understand and resolve the differences between the public and health system through awareness.

Consequently, health literacy is the instrument for reducing the imbalance existing between health sector and individual cultural perception.

In fact, Berkman et al. (2010) describe health literacy as a crucial component of communication in health care which influences the outcome of treatment.

The authors explain that health literacy helps patients to continue with self-medication after being discharged thereby ensuring better treatment outcomes.

The health literacy domain has been studied as a conceptual and cultural knowledge.

Health literacy is important in improving an individual's standard of living.

A person with high health literacy is well positioned to increase life quality by minimizing health risks and making informed decisions.

On the other hand, people with poor literacy find it difficult to follow simple medical instructions and as a result may fail to consult health services.

As such, health literacy is significant in ensuring that public health quality is improved by reducing misunderstandings between the role of the health sector and the public.

Health literacy is also expanded to include communal health issues such as immunization and disease outbreak, knowledge on when and how to access care, and health lifestyle adjustment (Mitic and Rootman, 2012).

Health literacy is crucial in promoting public health at both the individual and societal level.

Some of the ways of promoting health literacy entail using simple words and images when spreading awareness on health issues.

Similarly, the messages should be translated into native languages to ensure a wider audience can be reached.

Health literacy promotes culturally safe health care environment by enhancing the successful use of services for health care under chronic conditions.

It boosts the process of self-care since health literate people are able to seek, read, interpret, and understand information regarding status and intervention.

Additionally, they are in a position to follow the doctor's instruction and much more easily.

Therefore, adequate health literacy makes it possible to attain long-term management of illnesses leading to a longer lifespan.

On the other hand, poor literacy on health matters may cause misuse of medication which normally worsens health conditions.

Health literacy also plays a crucial role in enabling the general population to learn about improving personal hygiene.

Generally, health literacy is essential for achieving a healthy population that is aware of their status and has the ability to seek out health information.

As such, literacy should be promoted especially among the elderly population who are prone to chronic illnesses.


To realize adequate health literacy within a given community, effective communication becomes an essential instrument.

Developing an understanding of the culture and norms of the society and influencing their attitude towards healthy living is achievable through good communication strategy.

Therefore, effective communication and health literacy are intertwined for providing health awareness to consumers.

As a result, health practitioners should be trained on the methods of influential communication with the patients as well as the public so that the flow of information is well enhanced.

At the same time, the mode of communication within the health care facility among the health providers should be in unison and aimed at promoting patient empowerment.

According to Rimal and Lapinski (2009), the use of effective communication gives the opportunity for empowering patients and hence facilitates the treatment process.

Consequently, all health professionals should embrace the initiative to promote effective health communication so as to lighten the burden on the health facility sections such as emergency and bedding.

Health literacy should be emphasized since it opens the way for individuals to appreciate their culture and utilize it to seek medical information.

In so doing, effective communication and health literacy work together in establishing a safe cultural health environment necessary for high-quality living.

Through a comprehensive health system, patient information and education can be enhanced in order to encourage literacy and adequate communication channels.

Ultimately, the public will be able to appreciate health practices and seek medical attention whenever necessary.


Bachmann, C., Kiessling, C., Härtl, A., & Haak, R. (2016). Communication in health professions: a European consensus on inter-and multi-professional learning objectives in German. GMS journal for medical education, 33(2).

Berkman, N. D., Davis, T. C., & McCormack, L. (2010). Health literacy: What is it? Journal of Health Communication: International Perspectives 15(S2), 9-19.

Bischoff, A., & Denhaerynck, K. (2010). What do language barriers cost? An exploratory study among asylum seekers in Switzerland. BMC Health Services Research, 10(1), 248. 

Brach, C., Dreyer, B., Schyve, P., Hernandez, L. M., Baur, C., Lemerise, A. J., & Parker, R. (2012). Attributes of a health literate organization. Inst Med.

Coleman, C., Kurtz-Rossi, S., McKinney, J., Pleasant, A., Rootman, I., & Shohet, L. (2008). The Calgary charter on health literacy: Rationale and core principles for the development of health literacy curricula. The Center for Literacy of Quebec.

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Kreps G. (2009) Applying Weick's model of organizing to health care and health promotion: highlighting the central role of health communication. Patient Education and Counseling 74: 347-355

Lie, D., Carter-Pokras, O., Braun, B., & Coleman, C. (2012). What do health literacy and cultural competence have in common? Calling for a collaborative health professional pedagogy. Journal of Health Communication, 17(sup3), 13-22.

Lowell, A., Schmitt, D., Ah Chin, W., & Connors, C. (2014). Provider Health Literacy, cultural and communication competence: towards an integrated approach in the Northern Territory.

Mitic, W., & Rootman, I. (2012). An intersectoral approach for improving health literacy for Canadians.

Pleasant, A., McKinney, J., & Rikard, R. V. (2011). Health literacy measurement: a proposed research agenda. Journal of health communication, 16(sup3), 11-21. 

Rimal, R. N., & Lapinski, M. K. (2009). Why health communication is important in public health. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 87, 247-247a.

Vass, A., Mitchell, A., & Dhurrkay, Y. (2011). Health literacy and Australian Indigenous peoples: an analysis of the role of language and worldview. Health Promotion Journal of Australia, 22(1), 33-37. 

Wynia, M. K., & Osborn, C. Y. (2010). Health literacy and communication quality in health care organizations. Journal of health communication, 15(S2), 102-115.

October 13, 2023

Health Sociology


Illness Communication

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