Economic Considerations of Health Literacy

Roberta Pawlak


Nurs Econ. 2005;23(4):173-180. 

In This Article


Health literacy is a complicated concept that has many economic implications and requires attention in modeling and research. Age, genetics, language, race and ethnicity, education, employment, socio- economic status, and environment potentially influence health literacy. These determinants have variability within populations as well as variability between populations. Screening tools for literacy and functional health literacy (medical terminology and numerical tests) exist currently (see Table 1 ). Although useful tools, they are limited in their ability to measure the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions (health literacy). If health literacy is viewed as a determinant of population health, strategies for improvement may be most efficient if targeted at the provider and payer level with the overall goal of improved informed consumers. Communication to enhance understanding and competence in implementing self-care as well as prescribed treatments must exist beyond the written word. To this end, reduction of health disparities and improved population health are theorized in the proposed model. Promoting health literacy as a national priority is outlined in Healthy People 2010. The Institute of Medicine (2004) report on Health Literacy offers suggestions for steps addressing the concept of health literacy within a public health/public education framework. It is hoped that this report will influence research and policy initiatives, interventions, and collaborations that will promote health literacy to the end that it improves population health, and improves economic efficiency in health care delivery and consumption.


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.