Health Literacy Assessment Tools

Health Literacy Assessment Tools

Health literacy is the ability of the individual to understand and correctly use information related to health management. Low health literacy level results in poor health outcomes, more frequent cases of hospitalization, and a higher level of morbidity. Therefore, identification of the difficulties in interpreting health information is required for the effectiveness of the medical interventions and patients’ self-management. In this paper, the tools for assessment of patient understanding and adherence to prescribed medicine, as well as the general level of patient health literacy, will be discussed.

First, in identifying the errors in the patient’s interpretation of treatment instructions, the teach-back technique is used. It includes “confirmation of patient understanding through asking the patient to teach content back to the clinician” (Brooks et al., 2019, p. 1). This method helps to indicate that all the details about the medication, such as dose and frequency, are clear for the patient.

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Second, health professionals can understand patients’ health literacy levels, using the analysis of their verbal and non-verbal expressions. Such indirect signs include the “use of simple language, body language, facial expressions or level of interaction” (Brooks et al., 2019, p. 1). For example, demonstrating interest and engagement usually represents a high level of health literacy and the ability to self-management the patient.

Third, a direct method of assessment, such as a questionnaire or survey, may be used. Ylitalo et al. (2018) describe the process of evaluating health literacy using the Newest Vital Sign (NVS), which was developed in 2005 to “measure reading, comprehension, and numeracy using a nutritional label and a 6-item questionnaire” (p. 2). For example, patients need to answer six questions about an ice-cream nutrition label, regarding its caloric intake, ingredients, etc. Extended surveys are also used as a method of assessment (Duong et al., 2017). However, while they are applicable in a clinical setting, it may be inconvenient to use them in other circumstances.

Thus, various methods are developed to assess patients’ health literacy, as well as their understanding of the treatment plan. These techniques are essential as they demonstrate drawbacks in patients’ interpreting medical information and low adherence to prescribed treatment. As a result, it ensures health professionals’ awareness of the flaws in patients’ knowledge and enables the implementation of appropriate measures for their eliminating.


Brooks, C., Ballinger, C., Nutbeam, D., Mander, C., & Adams, J. (2019). Nursing and allied health professionals’ views about using health literacy screening tools and a universal precautions approach to communication with older adults: A qualitative study. Disability and Rehabilitation, 1–7. Web.

Duong, T. V., Chang, P. W., Yang, S.-H., Chen, M.-C., Chao, W.-T., Chen, T., Chao, W.-T., Chen, T., Chiao, P., & Huang, H.-L. (2017). A new comprehensive short-form health literacy survey tool for patients in general. Asian Nursing Research, 11(1), 30–35. Web.

Ylitalo, K. R., Meyer, M. R. U., Lanning, B. A., During, C., Laschober, R., & Griggs, J. O. (2018). Simple screening tools to identify limited health literacy in a low-income patient population. Medicine, 97(10), 1-7. Web.


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