Patient information and health literacy

Patients must be empowered with the information they need to make informed decisions about healthcare treatments and living with their condition. Without accurate, relevant and comprehensive information patients lose control of the key choices that affect their lives.   

What is patient information?

IAPO defines patient information as all forms of health information that relate to a patients’ specific disease or condition, treatments, medication and health services.

Healthcare systems, providers and communities around the world are under increasing pressure as they try to respond to the needs of patients with communicable and non-communicable diseases. By actively engaging patients and involving them in their care, healthcare providers and systems will be better able to cope and patients will feel more capable of understanding and adhering to treatments, making positive changes and self-managing their conditions with appropriate support.

It is not only at the personal level where information can empower but also at the healthcare systems level. The voice of the patient must be strong in health-policy making if healthcare systems are to be patient-centred. An informed patient voice is a strong patient voice.   

What is health literacy?

Providing effective patient information means acknowledging, understanding and overcoming barriers to health literacy that individuals might experience. 

Health literacy includes an individual's reading level, as well as language, education level and cultural background. Also, individual readiness to receive health information orally or in other formats and to take action, is crucial.

All these factors may create barriers to understanding and limit a patient's ability to take action to improve their health. By affecting a person's ability to make informed decisions about his or her health, poor health literacy can mean treatment is ineffective. Poor levels of health literacy exist in all countries.   

Policy Briefing 2017

High-quality information represents one of the necessary pre-conditions for patients to be able to make informed decisions and participate as equal partners in healthcare decision-making. When information is of high-quality, patients can develop stronger awareness of the implications and risks that are associated with a potential choice. In this regard, the key challenge is to identify and understand what constitutes appropriate information and how to put that in practice.

Read the Policy briefing here

Policy statements