Health Literacy as a Primary Care Goal

Dr Imran Rafi

Chair of the Clinical Innovation and Research Centre (CIRC), Royal College of General Practitioners

By improving people's access to health information, and their capacity to use it effectively, health literacy is critical to empowerment. World Health Organisation

The World Health Organisation definition of health literacy is wordy, but the last sentence of it illustrates a reason for intervention.

Nutbean (2000) wrote about health literacy as a public health goal and in particular the need to engage health education to lead to effective delivery of healthcare. However, more than a decade on, more research accrues around the relationship between poor health literacy and worsening health related outcomes as well as increased healthcare utilisation.

Solutions will require integrated and cross-organisation working, one would expect, and leading on some aspects of this work are members of the Health Literacy Special Interest Group, which is affiliated to the Society of Academic Primary Care.

Patients require health literacy skills to gain access to, understand, and use the information received from GPs to promote and maintain good health. In particular, Dr Gill Rowlands and Joanne Protheroe are leaders in this field. Dr Rowlands noted that GPs are key, as 90% of all encounters in the NHS are in general practice. GPs have an important role in supporting patients to develop their skills.

Both Dr Rowlands and Joanne presented their work at a research session at this year's RCGP conference in Liverpool. Find out more about the RCGP conference here.

We hope you enjoy this edition of Clinical News, which we hope raises awareness around the importance of health literacy and how primary care may have an influence and an important role. This is the first of four articles focusing on health literacy in general practice. Click here to view the three other articles.

For more information regarding health literacy, please click here.


Nutbean D (2000) Health Literacy as a public health goal: a challenge for contemporary health education and communication strategies in the 21 Century. Health Promotion International. Vol 15 No 3, Oxford University Press.

Rowlands, G (2014) Health Literacy: report from an RCGP-led health literacy workshop. June 2014.

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