For Providers

Health Literacy

Tips and Tools
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Tips and Tools

What you, the provider, can do:

  • Create a safe environment where patients feel comfortable talking openly with you.
  • Be an active listener. Encourage patients to share information they feel is necessary for their visit. Pose open-ended questions. Instead of asking, “Do you have any questions?” ask the patient, “What questions do you have for me?”
  • Get feedback from the patient.
  • Have the patient ask you three questions: “What is my main problem?” “What do I need to do about it?” “Why is it important for me to do this?”
  • Make sure all printed and graphic communications are easy for patients to read and understand. Avoid acronyms such as “CVA” for “stroke.”
  • Sit down (instead of standing) to achieve eye level with your patient.
  • Use visual models to illustrate a procedure or condition.
  • Ask patients to “teach back” the care instructions you give to them.
  • Follow up with patients to make sure they have understood instructions.
  • Remember that you may have some patients who cannot read and as a result will not understand written comments or instructions.


What you, the provider, should not do:

  • Make assumptions about the patient’s health literacy based on factors such as age, race, ethnicity or level of education.
  • Treat patients in a condescending or patronizing manner. Remember to protect everyone’s dignity.
  • Use medical or technical jargon instead of plain, direct, “living room” language.
  • Write prescriptions that are unreadable.
  • Discourage patients from bringing a friend or relative to an appointment for support.
  • Design Web pages that are hard for patients to navigate.