Ask an expert: How can health literacy support my ability to access care and self-manage health conditions?

British Columbia’s changing demographics and increasingly multicultural communities are ushering in a new era of informed patient care.

Timely access to the best possible care may seem out of reach for individuals who face such things as language, cultural and mobility barriers. Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute expert, Dr. Iraj Poureslami, unpacks the essential role health literacy can play in providing care that meets the needs of all Canadians. 

Q: What are the components of health literacy? Is it just about reading health information?
A: The idea of health literacy began in the early 1980s when researchers defined it as literacy about health. In other words, they believed that the better educated someone is about health-related matters, the better equipped they will be to navigate the health care system. By the 1990s, the definition expanded to include the collection of skills an individual uses to find, understand and apply health information and care services to make informed health decisions. 

Today, the five main domains of health literacy are: 1) access, 2) understand, 3) communicate, 4) evaluate and 5) utilize health services and medical instructions to engage in self-management practices. Health literacy may also include numeracy, as there are figures and numerical information that patients encounter daily in the health care system. 

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