AHEC Comics Health Information Literacy Project

What is Health Information Literacy?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines health literacy as:

The degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.

Health literacy is dependent on several factors:

  • Communication skills of the public and professionals
  • Public and professional knowledge of health topics
  • Healthcare and public health systems
  • Situation and context

An individual's health literacy affects their ability to navigate the healthcare system. This may include the ability to locate healthcare providers and services or complete the forms in their doctor's office. Health literacy can affect an individual's ability to share important health information with their healthcare providers and engage in self-care or disease management.

(Source: Health Literacy Fact Sheet, The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion)

We all need information about our health but most of us can't understand it. Health literacy is a bigger issue than you think.

(Infographic Source: CommunicateHealth, 2012)

Why is it important?

Without health literacy, how can someone make health choices, seek health care, and engage in preventative actions for improving health? Research shows that low health literacy levels are associated with:

  • An increased likelihood of skipping preventative health measures, such as mammograms and flu shots.
  • Waiting longer to seek out medical attention.
  • An increased likelihood of chronic conditions and a lower ability to manage them effectively.
  • An increase in emergency room visits and hospital admissions that could have been prevented.
  • Self reports of poorer health than those with higher health literacy levels.
  • Higher use of treatment services instead of preventative services, resulting in higher healthcare costs.

(Source: Health Literacy and Health Outcomes Fact Sheet, The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion)

What can I do to help?

Head over to our Literacy Super Powers page to find out ways to be a better health information communicator!


South Carolina Area Health Education Consortium educates, recruits and retains healthcare providers for the state.

South Carolina AHEC is a state agency that was originally established in 1972.


  (843) 792-4431

   (843) 792-4430