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Health literacy is most widely defined in the United States as an individual’s ability to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and the resources needed to make appropriate health decisions (Selden, Zorn, Ratzan, & Parker, 2000). Health literacy is a shared responsibility between patient and provider where both parties communicate in ways that the other can understand and participate in shared decision-making (Osborne, 2013).

A systematic literature review of definitions and conceptual frameworks of health literacy from the public health and medical perspective was performed as well as content analysis of the definitions and conceptual frameworks. This identified the central dimensions of health literacy from a patient and population health perspective with the integrated model shown in Figure 1 (Sorenson, Van den Brouke, Doyle, Fullam, Pelikan, Slonska, & Brand, 2012).

Health literacy influences health behavior and the use of health services, which impacts health outcomes and health costs in society. At an individual level, ineffective communication due to poor health literacy will result in errors, poor quality, and risks to patient safety (Schyve, 2007). At a population level, health literate persons are able to participate in the ongoing public and private dialogues about health, medicine, scientific knowledge and cultural beliefs (Zarcoolas, Pleasant, & Greer, 2005). Advancing health literacy will allow for greater autonomy and personal empowerment. Consequently, low health literacy can be addressed by educating persons to become more resourceful (Sorenson et al., 2012).