Health literacy and patient safety are strongly linked

Understanding information about health is crucial for safety

Patient safety include prevention of medical errors and avoidable adverse events, protection of patients from harm or injury and collaborative efforts by individual healthcare providers and a strong, well-integrated healthcare system.  If patients can understand the care they receive, they will more likely adhere to the treatment. It is also a safety issue that patients understand the care in detail. In order to achieve this, self-management instructions should follow health literacy principles and use plain and simple wording as well as graphs and drawings. All patients should understand both the care provided by the health and social care organisations as well as instructions pertaining to self-management.

Transition From Hospital to Home  

I wish doctors told us more about recovery. Not just drugs…walking is still a problem…and my family is worried because I can’t handle things on my own. We didn’t know what questions to ask…what sort of things may be good for my recovery.”

S. Ryan Greysen and colleques nterviewed vulnerable older adults (low income/health literacy, and/or Limited English Proficiency). They founds that older adults tended to be positieve about traditional medical aspects of post-discharge recovery such as specific instructions about diet, medications, and disease management. By contrast, when asked specifically “tell me what has been most difficult for you since coming from the hospital,” many patients elaborated on specific issues that had not been addressed during the discharge process or afterward. They conclude that hospital-based discharge interventions that focus on traditional aspects of care may overlook social and functional gaps in postdischarge care at home for vulnerable older adults. Postdischarge interventions that address these challenges may be necessary to reduce readmissions in this population.

Medical-ethical and legal implications

Ensuring that patients understand the care they receive has medical-ethical and legal implications. Most EU countries have long-standing systems of informed consent requiring written permission from patients before major therapeutic interventions, such as surgery, can take place. Healthcare professionals in this context have a legal obligation to provide the required information on medical treatment and have to verify whether patients have understood the implications of the medical intervention.

Patient safety is the foremost attribute of quality of care

Safety issues require a systematic approach. Patient safety is a system requiring the constant attention and co-operation of all providers of care, including the patient himself. Patient safety is the foremost attribute of quality of care. Ways to ensure that patient safety is secured include unequivocal wording and expressions in all communication towards the patient. Clear explanations about the care attributes have to be provided. The possibility of asking for further clarifications must be built into the system. If a patient’s health situation at home suddenly changes he/she has to know whom to contact for help, and from where. This information should be available to the relatives and other relevant stakeholders too.


Kim L, Lyder CH,McNeese-Smith D, Leach LS,Needleman J. Defining attributes of patient safety through a concept analysis. 2015. J. adv. Nurse. Nov;71(11):2490-503. doi: 10.1111/jan.12715. Epub 2015 Jun 30J Eval Clin Pract. 2010 Jun;16(3):639-43. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2753.2010.01448.x. Epub 2010

Gaal S, van Laarhoven E, Wolters R, Wetzels R, Verstappen W, Wensing M. Patient safety in primary care has many aspects: an interview study in primary care doctors and nurses. J Eval Clin Pract. 2010 Jun;16(3):639-43. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2753.2010.01448.x. Epub 2010 april 2015.