Assessing and Addressing Health Literacy

Sandy Cornett, PhD, RN



The ability to communicate effectively with patients who have low health literacy depends on our ability to recognize this problem and to create a patient-centered and shame-free healthcare environment. Because of the shame and embarrassment these patients experience, they often use their well-developed coping skills to mask their limited literacy. Although a number of reading- and comprehension-assessment tools are available, there is debate whether or not these tools should be used clinically. This article provides guidance in regard to establishing an environment that promotes health literacy, assessing health literacy levels, utilizing strategies to increase health literacy, evaluating the learning that has occurred, and incorporating health literacy concepts into the nursing curriculum.

Purpose/Goal: To provide nurses with the knowledge and skills to help establish an environment that promotes health literacy; assess patients' health literacy skills; apply strategies to increase health literacy skills through both oral and printed communication techniques; evaluate learning; and incorporate health literacy concepts into a nursing curriculum.


1. Describe strategies to establish an environment that promotes health literacy.
2. Discuss how to assess the health literacy skills of a patient.
3. Identify strategies in oral and printed communication and in evaluating learning that increase health literacy.
4. Identify ways to incorporate health literacy concepts into a nursing curriculum.


Dr. Cornett holds BS and MS degrees in nursing and a PhD in Adult Education and Instructional Design. She currently serves as Director of the Area Health Education Center (AHEC) Clear Health Communication Program at the Ohio State University College of Medicine, where she has prepared over 6,000 students and practitioners in the health professions in the area of health literacy and consulted with many organizations that need assistance with health literacy issues. She previously served as Program Manager of Consumer Health Education at The Ohio State University Medical Center, Columbus, Ohio, for over 20 years. During this tenure she implemented a patient education system that included 3,000 titles of patient education materials, written below an 8th grade reading level.

The planners and author of this CNE activity have disclosed no financial relationships with any commercial companies pertaining to this activity.

Contact Hours: 1.69

Expiration Date: 3/31/2014


Member Price: $0.00
Non-Member Price: $20.00

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