Health Literacy Month

October is health literacy month

October is Health Literacy Month, a time dedicated to promoting easy and accessible health information for everyone. The main aim of health literacy month is to improve health literacy in society.

Health literacy month was initiated by Helen Osborne in 1999 and organized by Institute for Healthcare Advancement (IHA). [1] Multiple people and organizations take part in health literacy month, including hospitals, healthcare businesses, social service agencies, literacy programs, health centers, government agencies, and professional associations.

In this article, we will discuss what health literacy is, why it is particularly important and relevant in clinical research and ways that organizations involved in clinical research can take advantage of health literacy month to improve the health literacy of both their study participants and their organization.

What is health literacy?

Health literacy is the capability of individuals to gather, process, and understand health care services and information to make informed health decisions and follow treatment instructions. [2]

Personal health literacy versus organizational health literacy

Personal health literacy is the ability of patients to fully access, understand, and utilize health information to make informed decisions related to their health care. [3]

Organizational health literacy is the ability of organizations, like health websites, CROs, and case trial sponsors, to gather information and create and implement systems, practices, and policies to make it easy for patients and individuals to comprehend and use the services and information to make informed health decisions. [4]

What is an example of health literacy?

Understanding the instructions of drug prescriptions, following the physician’s aftercare instructions, and knowing the significance of consent forms and how to use them are examples of personal health literacy.

Implementing a patient record management system, training all employees to use the management system, conducting communication training for all employees, designing and modifying health materials to keep employees updated, creating updated materials to provide patients before and after surgery or treatment, and training employees to use simpler language to help patients and families understand are some of the examples of organizational health literacy.

What influences health literacy?

Some major factors that influence an individual's personal health literacy include age, gender, household income, education, job status, communication skills, and reading and writing skills. [5]

What percentage of Americans are health literate?

Based on the National Assessment of Adult Literacy report, 12% of adults in America have health literacy skills. [6]

Why is health literacy so important?

Health literacy is significant for clinical research as it ensures informed consent among the individuals participating in the clinical trials. It allows patients and participants to understand the study objectives and protocols, consent forms, follow instructions, and understand which drugs they are prescribed. It also encourages a conversation related to the mutual goals of stakeholders and participants when a new technology or drug is introduced.

How can clinical trial sponsors and CROs improve the health literacy of study participants?

Clinical trial sponsors and investigators can use multiple techniques to enhance health literacy and boost the understanding of the participants with low health literacy. These can include:

  • Utilizing simple language on all participant materials to ensure they have a better understanding. For instance, using active voice, using easy phrases, and avoiding medical jargon.
  • Identifying red flags for low health literacy to help those participants more. These red flags include missed appointments, incomplete forms, medication non-compliance, and inability to read prescription labels. [7]
  • Using interactive content and asking questions to ensure the participants understand the materials.
  • Asking participants to explain the concepts you have just explained to confirm their understanding.
  • Taking feedback from the participants, allowing them to ask questions openly and express doubts. [8]

Ideas for health literacy month activities for clinical researchers

Clinical researchers and research organizations can implement multiple activities during national literacy month. These may include:

  • Spread awareness about health literacy and its significance by organizing workshops and seminars
  • Conducting prescription safety sessions for all participants
  • Update health materials and policies and conduct a refresher course for all staff and participants
  • Conduct staff training as a reminder to encourage health literacy awareness among participants
  • Work on internal organizational health literacy by improving processes to optimize patient understanding of research protocols. For instance, providing detailed materials of the study to help potential participants make informed decisions.
  • Offering relevant and authentic resources for participants to access more information and promote ongoing participation.

Want to learn more about health literacy?

Here are some resources for clinical researchers and organizations to learn more about health literacy:


Health literacy makes navigating the healthcare system easier for patients and individuals. It allows participants to make informed decisions about taking part in clinical trials and studies, resulting in reduced missed appointments and dropout rates. Clinical researchers and organizations are responsible for understanding average health literacy rates, simplifying language, and facilitating patient understanding of study materials.