Policies and protocols for supportive health literacy environments

Communication and Health Literacy

Print version

Main point

To make a real and sustainable difference to the health literacy environment of your health service, get your leaders on board and embed health literacy considerations in organisational policies, procedures and expectations

Having a supportive health literacy environment means doing more than a one-off assessment or a few projects. It means having leaders committed to making health literacy and good communication integral to the mission, structure and operations of the organisation, and demonstrating this through policies and procedures, strategic directions and mission statements.

What does a Health Literacy Policy include?

A health literacy policy needs to support the key principles that:

  1. Consumers have a right to information: it is the responsibility of healthcare providers to communicate effectively and check consumers' understandings of information communicated.
  2. Consumers have a right to be involved in decision-making about their health and wellbeing.
  3. A service's health literacy environment should support and empower consumers to make effective decisions and take appropriate action for their health and health-care.

Your policy can also outline your organisation's expectations about communication and the minimum standards expected. Remember it's not easy to identify someone with poor health literacy. It's best to take health literacy precautions with all consumers.

A health literacy policy should require:

  • consideration of health literacy and communication in service planning and environmental design of facilities
  • consumers to be involved in service planning and environmental design of the service, and in the development of consumer information material
  • staff to be offered opportunities to undertake professional development activities in health literacy and communication, and to develop skills to ensure consumers understand information being provided
  • all spoken and written communication targeting consumers to be easily understood and tailored to the needs of people from a diverse range of backgrounds
  • regular assessments of all health literacy and communication aspects of the service and environment
  • organisational advocacy, support and/or participation in community activities that promote literacy and health literacy.

Other organisational policies and procedures

You can further support communication and health literacy by incorporating its considerations into a broad range of policies, project goals and evaluation criteria for programs and projects.

For example, a SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based) goal for induction training could be: Provide new employees with training in health literacy and effective communication within six months of their employment.

Your organisation is likely to have many policies relevant to health literacy, including:

  • a communication and/or plain language policy
  • an accessible information policy
  • a style guide
  • signage policy/protocols
  • a quality and safety policy
  • a customer service policy
  • a consumer-centred care policy
  • a consumer engagement policy
  • a policy about consumer rights and responsibilities
  • policies about using and engaging language services, providing Easy English versions of documents and responding to other special communication needs.

Review these policies to ensure they align with your health literacy policy and are cross-referenced.

January 2019