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Health Literacy

Health literacy is the ability to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions and follow instructions for treatment. A recent government study estimates that over 89 million American adults have limited health literacy skills.

Studies also show that people from all ages, races, income and education levels are challenged by this problem. Individuals with limited health literacy incur medical expenses that are up to four times greater than patients with adequate literacy skills, costing the health care system billions of dollars every year in unnecessary doctor visits and hospital stays.

Compounding the problem is the fact that most patients hide their confusion from their doctors because they are too ashamed and intimidated to ask for help.

In 1998, the American Medical Association (AMA) became the first national medical organization to adopt policy recognizing that limited patient literacy affects medical diagnosis and treatment. The AMA Foundation has since been working to raise awareness of health literacy through its:

Health Literacy Bulk Order Grants
If you are ordering 20 or more of the toolkit, patient safety monograph or the NAAL report, you may be eligible for a grant that will allow you to receive bulk quantities free of charge. Download the instructions and one-page grant application.

Explore this site to learn about the issue and what you can do to make a difference. For more information about the health literacy program, e-mail healthliteracy@ama-assn.org

Health literacy and patient safety
Learn about our health literacy and patient safety efforts.

How to get involved
Join our listserv, request brochures or give a gift.

Health literacy news
News, journal articles, and reports.

What others are doing
Links to health literacy activities around the country.

Frequently asked questions about the Foundation's health literacy program