A Health Literate Health Care Organization Has Leadership That Makes Health Literacy Integral to Its Mission, Structure, and Operations.

Being a health literate organization is more than initiating a few projects that ad-dress health literacy; it means that health literacy is an organizational value. Health literacy strategies are infused throughout the organization and embraced as part of the organization’s core business. It is the organization’s leadership that establishes the culture of the organization through its language, expectations, and the behavior it models (Schyve, 2009), and through the design of service delivery processes (Rice, 2007). Ongoing organizational leadership is key to ensuring successful implementation and maintenance of the attributes of a health literate organization.

Health literate health care organizations implement evidence-based health literacy strategies. But given the relative paucity of “real-world” implementation research involving representative populations in non-academic health care settings (Sheridan et al., 2011), health literate organizations also develop mutually beneficial partnerships with health literacy researchers to help develop, identify, implement, and evaluate health literacy interventions (Allen et al., 2011; Ratanawongsa et al., 2012).

Health literacy leadership takes a variety of forms. In a health literate health care organization, organizational leaders:

  • Make clear and effective communication a priority across all levels of the organization and across all communication channels.
  • Create a culture that values patient and consumer perspectives and emphasizes that communication is made up of two-way interactions between participants who have equally important roles.
  • Include an explicit commitment to be health literate in the organization’s mission statement, policies, and programs.
  • Assign responsibility and delegate authority for health literacy oversight (e.g., a health literacy officer or high-level health literacy taskforce, or an addition to the Chief Medical Officer’s job description).
  • Set goals for health literacy improvement, provide incentives to achieve those goals, and establish accountability for outcomes at every level of the organization.
  • Allocate fiscal and human resources necessary to effectively and efficiently meet health literacy improvement goals (e.g., funds for editing and testing materials with target audiences, extra time to support individuals who need additional reinforcement or assistance, funds and time for health literacy training).
  • Cultivate health literacy champions throughout the organization.
  • Redesign systems to maximize individuals’ capacities to learn how to maintain good health, manage illness or disease, communicate effectively, and make in-formed decisions.
  • Design space to support effective communication (e.g., private counseling space at the pharmacy).
  • Encourage other organizations to be health literate by using influence, purchasing power, and collaboration.
  • Contribute to local, state, and national efforts to improve organizational responses to health literacy (e.g., joining a state health literacy coalition or community-level health literacy efforts).
  • Sponsor research or other forms of active inquiry to extend the evidence base on effective interventions to reduce disparities between those with limited and adequate health literacy.


Page last reviewed: October 17, 2019