The need for health literacy (HL) increases with the growing complexity of health information, and the emphasis on citizen and patient involvement in health services. The aim of this article is to introduce the concept of HL, the current research and to point out implications in a clinical context.

Health literacy as a concept has developed over recent decades from covering mainly the basic reading and numeracy skills needed to function well in healthcare, to now covering broader competences, e.g. interactive and critical. Surveys have shown associations between low health literacy and low self-reported health; inadequate health behavior; risk of developing disease, and insufficient disease management. In the clinical setting, HL is relevant in the direct communication between patients and health professionals in prevention, patient education and rehabilitation. On a system level, HL is the core when planning understandable and meaningful communication and services. Knowledge is lacking concerning effective HL interventions.

Keywords: health literacy, health information, health services, empowerment, informed decisions