National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy

What is the National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy?

The National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy, released May 2010 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, seeks to engage organizations, professionals, policymakers, communities, individuals, and families in a linked, multi-sector effort to improve health literacy. The plan includes seven broad goals with multiple high level strategies for various stakeholders and provides a focal point for the field.

The plan is based on the principles that (1) everyone has the right to health information that helps them make informed decisions and (2) health services should be delivered in ways that are understandable and beneficial to health, longevity, and quality of life.

What is the Vision of the Plan?

The National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy provides a blueprint for efforts to improve health literacy and calls for a response from all sectors involved in health information and services to create a society that:

  • Provides everyone access to accurate, actionable health information;
  • Delivers person-centered health information and services; and
  • Supports life-long learning and skills to promote good health

What are the 7 Goals in the Plan?

  • Goal 1: Develop and disseminate health and safety information that is accurate, accessible, and actionable
  • Goal 2: Promote changes in the healthcare delivery system that improve information, communication, informed decision-making, and access to health services
  • Goal 3: Incorporate accurate and standards-based health and developmentally appropriate health and science information and curricula into child care and education through the university level
  • Goal 4: Support and expand local efforts to provide adult education, English-language instruction, and culturally and linguistically appropriate health information services in the community
  • Goal 5: Build partnerships, develop guidance, and change policies
  • Goal 6: Increase basic research and the development, implementation, and evaluation of practices and interventions to improve health literacy
  • Goal 7: Increase the dissemination and use of evidence-based health literacy practices and interventions.

How Can I Use the Plan?

You can use the plan as a framework for developing your own organizational plan or for providing a justification for your efforts to address health literacy.

Additionally, the plan can be used to help guide your strategic actions by following the steps below:

  • Review: Examine your organization’s priorities and programs and ask, how could attention to health literacy improve our services and outcomes?
  • Choose: Identify the most relevant goals and strategies in the Plan for your programs
  • Try: Plan and implement strategies
  • Evaluate: Assess the effectiveness of chosen strategies

Download “Making Health Literacy Real: The Beginnings of My Organization’s Plan for Action” [278 KB, 16 Pages, 508]

History of the Plan

Many organizations – public and private, large and small – contributed to the development of the National Action Plan. Below are some key activities that brought national attention to limited health literacy as an issue, generated information and created the momentum for a plan.

Initial National Attention (1999-2004)

  • The Ad Hoc Committee on Health Literacy for the American Medical Association’s Council on Scientific Affairs publishes its report on health literacy.
  • Healthy People 2010 identifies limited health literacy as a public health problem and sets national objectives for its improvement. Healthy People 2020 also includes health literacy-related objectives.
  • The Institute of Medicine issues Health Literacy: A Prescription to End Confusion, finding that health literacy is critical to the improvement of the health of individuals and the nation.
  • The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality publishes its evidence report on Literacy and Health Outcomes.
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services establishes a Health Literacy Workgroup.

Further Research (2004-2006)

  • The National Institutes of Health and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality release an ongoing funding announcement to support health literacy research.
  • The National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) measures the literacy and health literacy skills of English-speaking adults. For the first time, the results show that limited health literacy affects nearly 9 out of 10 English-speaking adults in the US.
  • The Institute of Medicine convenes the Roundtable on Health Literacy.

Workshop and Town Halls (2006-2008)

  • The U.S. Surgeon General hosts a Workshop on Improving Health Literacy to present the state of the science in health literacy.
    • Participants identify the public health consequences of limited health literacy and establish a framework for action.
  • As a follow-up to the Surgeon General’s Workshop, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services convenes town hall meetings to explore promising practices to improve health literacy.
    • Representatives from local organizations serving the health, education, social services and information needs of the community attend.
    • To include diverse perspectives, these 1-day meetings take place in New York City, Sacramento, St. Louis, and Tampa.
    • Participants imagine the year 2025 and describe the characteristics of a health literate society and the goals and strategies to create such a society.

Organizational Consultations and Plan Release (2009-2010)

Community Health Literacy Assessments

The National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy seeks to engage organizations, professionals, policymakers, individuals, families, and communities in a multi-sector effort to improve health literacy. With a focus on communities, researchers at the Herschel S. Horowitz Center for Health Literacy, University of Maryland, developed a community health literacy assessment. Read Community Health Literacy Assessment: A Systematic Framework and The Value of Community Health Literacy Assessments. Then consider conducting community health literacy assessments or including them as part of your larger community health assessments.