NIHR: Health information: are you getting your message across?

5 July, 2022

From the National Institute for Health and Care Research (UK). Read online:


Health information: are you getting your message across?



"It is the duty of health information producers to be ‘health-literacy’ friendly in all they do. It is a crucial element of tackling health inequality and misinformation. This was demonstrated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Health information must be accessible to all."

– Sophie Randall, Director, Patient Information Forum (PIF)

Around half of the population struggles to understand information that can help them manage their own health and care. Understanding health information (health literacy) is essential for taking medications correctly, knowing which health services to use, and managing long-term conditions. The most disadvantaged groups in society are most likely to have limited health literacy. Efforts to improve health literacy could therefore reduce health inequalities.

This Collection brings together messages from research highlighted in accessible summaries - NIHR Alerts - over the past couple of years. It covers research on what happens when health information is not clear; how we can help people understand health information; and which groups of the population may need extra support.

We hope this Collection provides useful pointers for those who provide information and for health and social care professionals. We want to help all members of the population make the best use of health information to manage their own health and wellbeing.

Health materials can be complex, full of medical jargon and numbers, and hard to interpret. In the UK, 7.1 million adults read at, or below, the level of an average 9 year old. More than 4 in 10 adults struggle to understand health content written for the public. And 6 in 10 adults struggle with health information that includes numbers and statistics.

The consequences of not understanding health information are stark. Low health literacy has been linked to poor general health, increased hospital admissions, low use of preventative services (such as vaccination and screening) and reduced life expectancy...


Neil Pakenham-Walsh, Global Coordinator HIFA,

Working in official relations with WHO