health on chalkboard table

During October, the CMS Office of Minority Health (OMH) recognizes Health Literacy Month. We encourage healthcare providers to make health information easier for patients and residents to understand and navigate.

Healthy People 2030—an initiative that identifies public health priorities to help individuals, organizations, and communities across the United States improve health and well-being across a 10-year timeframe—addresses both personal health literacy and organizational health literacy. According to Healthy People 2020:

  • Personal health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the ability to find, understand and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.
  • Organizational health literacy is the degree to which organizations equitably enable individuals to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.

These definitions allow us to emphasize people’s ability to use health information rather than just understand it, focus on the ability to make “well-informed” decisions rather than just “appropriate” ones, incorporate a public health perspective into decision making, and acknowledge that organizations have a responsibility to address health literacy.

Hispanic adults have been shown to have the lowest level of health literacy among racial and ethnic groups, followed by Black adults and American Indian/Alaskan Native adults. Additionally, Spanish-speaking adults have an increased likelihood of inadequate health literacy, when compared to English-speaking adults.

Those with low health literacy are more likely to use the emergency department. And parents’ health literacy levels impact health outcomes for children. The effects of low health literacy can be particularly pronounced for those over 65, with low health literacy possibly leading to poor physical functioning, pain, limitations of daily activities, and poor mental health status.


To mark Health Literacy Month, we’re highlighting resources that can help providers better explain the services that are available to their patients through their health coverage:

Download the Guide to Developing a Language Access Plan, which helps assess programs and develop language access plans to ensure persons with limited English proficiency have meaningful access to care and services.

Source: CMS Office of Minority Health