Health literacy

Health literacy is the ability to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services in order to make appropriate health decisions. Health literacy includes how an individual navigates and interacts with our complex health system. Health literacy also includes people’s expectations about health and well-being, and their understanding of health messages, medicine labels and nutrition information, as well as their ability to fill out medical forms and talk with their doctor.

While the NZMA has limited scope to improve health literacy directly, we can emphasise the importance of good health literacy and the impact poor literacy has on health outcomes and service utilisation. We will seek political and wider social interest in this, and advocate for government, sector and community programmes to improve health literacy.

We also need to ensure that health professional and system performance meets different levels of health literacy.

  • We have made a submission to the Health Literacy Project that recommended:
    • the framework be rewritten in plain English
    • it reference non health players eg education
    • specific reference to those groups who are known to have poor health literacy 
  • We have included consideration of health literacy issues in our response to the Productivity Commission issues paper on More Effective Social Services, and in our submission to the Medical Council on its better data discussion paper.
  • We have published a policy briefing on health literacy that seeks to promote a shared understanding of what health literacy means, why it is important, and what can be done to improve it.