Oct 27, 2017 11:00 AM


Updated October 2018

We make decisions all the time, from which socks to wear to which car to purchase. When we have to make a decision, we get the best information we can and go from there.

We also make decisions about health. When we make health decisions, we use many sources to get information. Food packaging tells us whether an item is healthy. New treatments pop up on social media. Family and friends recommend herbs, oils, or supplements. And health care providers give instructions on how to manage diseases and side effects of treatment.

This information can be conflicting, overwhelming, and hard to understand. Health literacy is our ability to make decisions based on this health information.

Often we confuse health literacy with education level. Although education plays a big part in our ability to make health decisions, it is important to understand that even the most educated people struggle with health and medical information. Medical language is often foreign to patients and their loved ones who have little experience in the health care system. In addition, health decisions often come during times when people are upset or sick, which makes it hard to focus.

These are some ways health care providers, educators, and writers make information easier to understand:

  • Organizing info so the most important points come first
  • Using simple language
  • Explaining what medical terms mean
  • Breaking up long paragraphs into smaller chunks

Huntsman Cancer Institute provides easy-to-understand health education materials to teach patients and caregivers about things like recovering from surgery, how to take a medication, what to expect during a certain treatment, and many more topics. Educators at the Cancer Learning Center trained in health literacy can answer questions and find resources about cancer to help patients make decisions about their care.

For more information, live chat with a health educator or email cancerinfo@hci.utah.edu.

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Cancer touches all of us.

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