Training professionals about health literacy

Awareness of the roles of health and social staff in disease prevention and treatment

Health and social staff play a key role in prevention and treatment. Continued education and training is needed to ensure that practices that promote patient education are covered and incorporated in professionals’ work.

What needs to take place in training and communication?

  • Communication skills are important for health professionals. Simple changes in their skills may make a big impact on how the patient understands health information. Avoidance of jargon or medical terminology and asking open questions can be recommended. Time pressure is often put on professionals in healthcare settings and patients may also have limited possibilities to ask questions. Use plain and everyday language. Images can help explain some things.
  • Healthcare facilities’ physical environments contribute to clients’ confidence to navigate through the health system. Signage should be clear and consistent, and colours can help clients and patients more easily distinguish areas.
  • It is important that health workers and clients are themselves health literate. Achieving suitable levels of health literacy requires education and training. This has two purposes: 1) to provide health workers with the skills to clearly disseminate health information to the patient, and 2) to provide the patient with information and skills to adopt and adhere to health promotions. It is important that a level playing field in communication is created.
  • Health workers can support the clients and families in the development of self-management skills. This ranges from explanations of instruments to be used daily, to building confidence and self-efficacy.


Building capacities of all stakeholders

Effective health professional communication is associated with improved patient outcomes in health, safety and adherence. Health literacy education and training will enhance effective interaction between patients with limited health literacy and professionals. Therefore, it is important to educate both professionals and patients in communication strategies and to enhance the knowledge, skills and empowerment of both parties. A variety of skills training methods exist. Skills-training sometimes combines ICT-based elements with face-to-face elements. In studies impact of communication is often measured through patient outcomes: these show how well messages have been understood.

Development and testing of health literacy focused communication training

Training development

  1. Professionals prefer multi-disciplinary health literacy communication training to enhance inter-professional collaboration in tailoring communication to patients with limited health literacy. This is consistent with findings in the literature that show that targeting shared knowledge and communication skills in the team will improve quality through the entire care process for patients with limited health literacy.


  1. Professionals also stress the importance of sustaining knowledge and skills on health literacy focused communication in practice, e.g. using and further integrating knowledge and skills learnt in practice.


Sudore, R.L., Schillinger, D. Interventions to improve care for patients with limited health literacy. J Clin Outcomes Manag. 2009 January 1; 16(1): 20–29.).

Coleman, C. (2011). Teaching health care professionals about health literacy: A review of the literature. Nursing Outlook, 59(2), 70-78.)

Mackert, M., Ball, J., Lopez, N., Health literacy awareness training for healthcare workers: improving knowledge and intentions to use clear communication techniques. Patient education and counseling (2011),

Coleman, C.A., Fromer, A. A Health Literacy Training Intervention for Physicians and Other Health Professionals, Fam Med 2015;47(5):388-92. )