Patient Education Patient Education

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines health literacy as:

The cognitive and social skills which determine the motivation and ability of individuals to gain access to, and understand and use information in ways which promote and maintain good health.[#world-health-organisation.-2009]

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 60% of Australians lack basic health literacy skills. [#australian-bureau-of-statistics-2009] In patients with chronic conditions, inadequate health literacy is associated with poor knowledge of their disease and medications.[#buchbinder-r-batterham-r-ciciriello-s-et-al.-2011] Patients with inadequate health literacy skills may be difficult to identify; they may be verbally articulate but unable to grasp disease concepts or understand their medications.

Risk factors for inadequate health literacy include patients who:

  • Are elderly
  • Have low income
  • Did not finish high school
  • Are in a minority ethnic group
  • Speak English as a second language
  • Are recent immigrants

Health literacy communication principles:

  • Use plain language
  • Include visual images
  • Limit the amount of information provided at one time and repeat it
  • Encourage questions

Developing printed education materials for patients


  • Make sure the purpose is clear to the patient
  • Use at least 12-point type font
  • Write in the active voice
  • Aim for year 5-6 reading level


  • Keep content clear, simple and concise
  • Use one- and two-syllable words understood by intended reader
  • Use short sentences with one idea to a sentence
  • Use short paragraphs; discuss important ideas first
  • Focus content on what the patient should do
  • Provide examples
  • Avoid jargon; define medical terminology
  • Base content on the patient’s information needs
  • Ensure content is evidenced-based
  • Ensure information is up to date by including a publication date
  • Acknowledge sources of information


  • Use a structured format with clear headings
  • Use bullet points


  • Use adequate spacing with adequate white space
  • Use dark print on a light background
  • Use illustrations that are recognisable, clearly labelled, informative and complementary to the written text