Understanding and mitigating low health literacy


Dominique Byrne Senior staff nurse, critical care, Queen Alexandra Hospital, Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, Portsmouth, England

Why you should read this article:

  • To enhance your awareness of the challenges, consequences and costs of health literacy

  • To source techniques that can assist you in communicating with people who have low health literacy

  • To contribute towards revalidation as part of your 35 hours of CPD (UK readers)

  • To contribute towards your professional development and local registration renewal requirements (non-UK readers)

To take control of their health, patients and their families and carers need to understand the information they receive from healthcare professionals and be able to apply that information – in short, they require optimal health literacy. People with low health literacy may find it challenging to manage their condition and take steps to prevent ill-health, which may lead to an increased use of healthcare services. Low health literacy is one of the main barriers preventing healthcare professionals from adequately transmitting information to people in their care. It is crucial that nurses do not assume that everyone will understand information about their health, so nurses should adapt their communication and create an environment where people feel empowered to ask questions. This article describes factors affecting health literacy, explains the consequences of low health literacy, and identifies strategies and techniques nurses can use to mitigate low health literacy.

Nursing Standard.
doi: 10.7748/ns.2022.e11875

Peer review

This article has been subject to external double-blind peer review and checked for plagiarism using automated software



[email protected]

Conflict of interest

None declared

Byrne D (2022) Understanding and mitigating low health literacy. Nursing Standard. doi: 10.7748/ns.2022.e11875


The author would like to thank Rebecca Howes, clinical librarian at Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, for the support and information provided

Published online: 20 July 2022

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