Intended for healthcare professionals


Health literacy

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 22 March 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e2188
  1. D K Theo Raynor, professor of pharmacy practice
  1. 1University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK
  1. d.k.raynor{at}

Is it time to shift our focus from patient to provider?

Is it time to shift our focus from patient to provider? Increasing people’s ability to understand and engage in their healthcare is an international priority. Research, particularly from the United States, has shown that people who lack such ability have poorer health outcomes and increased mortality.1 In the linked study (doi:10.1136/bmj.e1602), Bostock and colleagues show an adverse effect on mortality in patients in the United Kingdom too.2 The findings of this study are worrying, but not surprising. The study also suggests that a third of older people in the UK have difficulty reading and understanding basic health information. Considered alongside data from the US and Australia,3 4 these findings suggest that between a third and half of people in developed countries have difficulty understanding and engaging in their healthcare and that this has important consequences for health. In light of such findings it seems remarkable that the matter is not given higher priority.

The ability to read and understand health information has been characterised over the past 20-30 years as “health literacy,” with the focus simply being on …

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