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The Impact of Health Literacy

Kathleen Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L

March 29, 2019



What is health literacy and why is it important? 


Health literacy is the ability to read, compute, understand, and act on health information, to make informed decisions. It is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services that they need to make appropriate health decisions.

Health literacy is dependent on a number of different individual and systemic factors. It is the communication skills of laypersons and of professionals like ourselves. It is culture. It is our knowledge of health topics, and how we can communicate those appropriately to participants. It is the demands of healthcare and the public health systems, and the demands of the situation or the context in which the client is presented.

Health literacy affects an individual’s ability to navigate the healthcare system. Filling out healthcare forms, locating providers and services, and even understanding insurance are all affected by your health literacy. Health literacy impacts your ability to share personal information, such as health history, with providers and to engage in self-care and chronic-disease management. Additionally, understanding concepts like probability and risk, and even medication management, are all affected by your health literacy.

Health information can even overwhelm persons with advanced literacy skills. Medical science progresses rapidly, and what we may have learned about health or biology during our school years often becomes outdated or forgotten, or it might have been incomplete to begin with. Moreover, health information provided in a very stressful or unfamiliar situation, like we see in healthcare, is unlikely to be retained.

It is important to know that low health literacy is a global crisis that affects everyone and is a serious threat to the wellbeing of persons seeking medical care. With the increased diversity of the clients that we may work with, we see that our communication skills are less effective with people from backgrounds different from our own. 

That is why it is so important to address this issue and confront the facts head-on. Quite simply, the responsibility is ours as health care professionals to communicate in what we will call “plain language.” Without clear communication, we cannot expect people to adopt the healthy behaviors and the recommendations that we champion. When people receive accurate and easy-to-use information about a health issue, they are better able to take action to protect and promote their own health and wellness.

Please refer to the SpeechPathology.com course, Health Literacy: Effective Client Communication and Education, for more in-depth information on ways to provide clear and effective communication to ensure that clients understand the therapy services provided to them. 

kathleen weissberg

Kathleen Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L

Kathleen Weissberg, in her 25+ years of practice, has worked in long-term care as a researcher/educator and has established various programs in nursing facilities including palliative care and end of life care, incontinence management, falls management and dementia care and staging. She currently provides continuing education support to 6000 therapists nationwide as Director of Education for Select Rehabilitation.

Related Courses

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Bloodborne Pathogens Standards: What You Need to Know
Presented by Kathleen Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L


Kathleen Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L
Course: #1033794Level: Introductory1 Hour
  'Ease of learning'   Read Reviews
This course reviews the bloodborne pathogens standard as published by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). It discusses what clinicians need to know in their place of employment, including employer compliance requirements for protection and appropriate infection control and documentation practices.

Preventing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Presented by Kathleen Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L, CMDCP, CDP


Kathleen Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L, CMDCP, CDP
Course: #1033882Level: Introductory1 Hour
  'examples provided'   Read Reviews
Harassment, and more specifically, sexual harassment, is illegal. This course reviews the definition of sexual harassment, ways to prevent harassment, and what to do should harassment occur in the workplace.

Core Topics for Speech-Language Pathology Assistants
Presented by Klaire Brumbaugh, ClinScD, CCC-SLP, J. Nikki Gaylord, ClinScD, CCC-SLP, Kathleen Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L, Kim Cavitt, AuD


Klaire Brumbaugh, ClinScD, CCC-SLPJ. Nikki Gaylord, ClinScD, CCC-SLPKathleen Weissberg, OTD, OTR/LKim Cavitt, AuD
Course: #9892Level: Introductory3 Hours
  'It was an excellent review of information previously learned'   Read Reviews
This course includes one hour of content on each of the following topics: 1) ethical concepts and decision-making; 2) universal safety precautions, including the Occupational Safety & Health Administration's (OSHA) bloodborne pathogens standard, and 3) patient confidentiality and the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Elder Abuse and Child Abuse: Know the Signs and Your Role
Presented by Kathleen Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L


Kathleen Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L
Course: #1033694Level: Intermediate1 Hour
  'This is always a great refresher when working with the elderly'   Read Reviews
Elder abuse and neglect and child abuse and neglect are harsh realities. This course identifies the physical, clinical, and behavioral indicators of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse needed to identify and report to appropriate agencies. Participants gain an improved awareness of warning signs of abuse, the clinician's role in reporting abuse, and the steps for reporting abuse and getting proper assistance.

Bullying Among Older Adults: Not Just a Playground Problem
Presented by Kathleen Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L


Kathleen Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L
Course: #10473Level: Introductory1 Hour
  'Enjoyed learning about something I had never thought about before; adult bullying'   Read Reviews
A discussion of bullying in adult living communities and day centers, including definitions, characteristics, incidence, and causes, is presented in this course. The different types of bullies and their typical targets, as well as the impact of bullying on older adults, are described. Interventions for the organization, the bully, and the target are reviewed to help communities minimize and even prevent bullying.

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