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What Is Health Information Literacy?

"Studies show as many as half of all adults in all socio-economic levels struggle with health literacy, defined as the ability to read, understand and act on spoken and written health information from medical professionals." —Wall Street Journal July 3, 2003

The Medical Library Association Task Force on Health Information Literacy is cognizant that many people lack the ability to understand and use the information they need to make good health decisions. The Task Force is committed to work with others to increase health literacy by fostering among health professionals, educators, and librarians an understanding of the role that health information literacy plays in empowering people to read, understand, and act. With this purpose in mind, the Task Force has developed a working definition of health information literacy and framed it within two larger, related concepts-health literacy and information literacy.

Health Literacy is …

…the ability to read, understand, and act on health information. [Pfizer, 2002]

…the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions. [Healthy People 2010, 2000]

Information Literacy is …

…a set of abilities enabling individuals to "recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information." [American Library Association, 1989]

Working Definition of Health Information Literacy:

Health Information Literacy is the set of abilities needed to: recognize a health information need; identify likely information sources and use them to retrieve relevant information; assess the quality of the information and its applicability to a specific situation; and analyze, understand, and use the information to make good health decisions.