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MCASOM - Health Literacy Selective: Objectives & Description

Objectives and Description


This selective introduces the concept of health literacy, what it is and is not, what research has been done, and why it matters. Even well-educated people can be functionally illiterate when it comes to health issues, despite how literate they are in the other parts of their lives. This selective also introduces the world of consumer health information and how to parse out the “good stuff,” as well as developing skills to talk with patients and the community at large about health topics.

The literature cites low health literacy as a barrier to optimum health over and over again. A simple PubMed search for health literacy retrieves over 13,000 citations in September 2018.1 A foundation of the current health literacy research is “The Health Literacy of America’s Adults: Results From the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy.”2 In addition, the AHRQ toolkit and Institute of Medicine’s publication “Health Literacy: A Prescription to End Confusion” provide a jumping off point for multiple case reports and systematic reviews about interventions and costs.3-6

By educating students about health literacy, they have the opportunity to apply their knowledge as they begin their practice, instead of changing their processes later. They will have a foundation of not only statistics, but of real-life stories from recorded interviews as well as talking with their own friends and family outside the medical profession.


  • Students will understand the latest research in health literacy and be able to describe the impact on public health via videos and assigned readings.
  • Students will learn about how patients find health information and how to evaluate consumer health resources via assigned readings and interviews with friends and family.
  • Students will gain a knowledge base of how health literacy impacts their patients via videos, assigned readings, and interviews.
  • Students will learn how to communicate more effectively that will help patients understand them better via videos and interviews.


  • Essay: How will your knowledge of health literacy issues impact how you practice medicine?
  • Essay: Reflection on interviews with family/friends/acquaintances
  • Meeting with Librarian

Mentors & Coordinators: Cynthia Beeler (MN), Lisa Marks (AZ), Tara Brigham (FL)


  1. US Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).  The Health Literacy of America’s Adults: Results from the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy. NCES website. 2006. Accessed September 10, 2018.
  1. US National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine. PubMed website. Accessed September 10, 2018.
  1. DeWalt  DA, Callahan  LF, Hawk  VH, Broucksou  KA, Hink  A, Rudd  R, Brach  C.  Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality website. April 2010. Accessed September 10, 2018.
  1. Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Health Literacy; Nielsen-Bohlman L, Panzer AM, Kindig DA, editors. Health Literacy: A Prescription to End Confusion. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US). Available from: 2004. Accessed September 10, 2018.
  1. Palumbo R. Examining the impacts of health literacy on healthcare costs. An evidence synthesis. Health Serv Manage Res. 2017 Nov;30(4):197-212.
  1. Berkman ND, Sheridan SL, Donahue KE, et al.  Health Literacy Interventions and Outcomes: An Updated Systematic Review. Evidence Report/Technology Assessment No. 199. Rockville, MD. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, March 2011.