Effective Patient Education: 4 Strategies for Improving Your Health Literacy

Debra Riley


If we want to effectively and confidently advocate for ourselves as patients in medical settings, we must improve our health literacy. We can do this by educating ourselves on the healthcare system, and the treatments that are available to us as recipients of medical care.

As patients, we must also learn how to advocate for ourselves, as well as develop our ability to communicate with confidence and assertiveness with our treating medical practitioners. 

Improving our health literacy also depends on our ability – and willingness – to be engaged and involved in our medical treatment, by actively participating in making important decisions concerning our wellbeing. 

Let’s discuss how.

health literacy

Health Literacy Strategy # 1: Empower and Educate Yourself

The first step to empowering ourselves through health literacy is to seek out information about the medical industry from reputable sources. Consider perusing government-issued healthcare pamphlets and flyers, as well as visiting academically-based online resources, and also, consulting the medical literature provided by your doctor, nurse, or healthcare facility. 

This will help inform you about the medical care available to you, as well as the types of medical practitioners and treatment facilities that exist within the healthcare system.

If you are a patient presenting with a treatable medical condition, your research will assist you in understanding not only what treatments are available, but also how – and why – your medical practitioners will undertake certain methods as part of your treatment.

Health Literacy Strategy # 2: Communicate Confidently With Your Medical Team

As mentioned earlier, a variety of medical practitioners exist within the healthcare system. These commonly include doctors, surgeons, and nurses, just to name a few – and they will all have completed the requisite qualifications in medicine – such as FNP online programs, in the case of family nurse practitioners for example. 

The key to being able to communicate both effectively and confidently with different medical practitioners is to foster positive relationships with these treating professionals.

Armed with your health literacy research, you’ll be able to ask informed, relevant questions about your treatment and have transparent, open conversations with your team of medical practitioners about the care you will be receiving throughout the course of your treatment program.

Health Literacy Strategy # 3: Learn to Advocate for Yourself As a Patient

Patient self-advocacy is interlinked with health literacy. If you are well-informed, you can advocate for yourself – and your health – better. This is because you will not only know what feels right for you, but just as importantly, you’ll know your rights as a patient

As a patient, you have the right to full disclosure in terms of the medical treatments your body will be exposed to.

And, you have the prerogative to disagree with any prescribed treatments. It’s your body, after all, and your consent is required before any medical procedure is undertaken on your person.

happy patient in bed

Health Literacy Strategy # 4: Be Actively Engaged and Involved in Your Medical Treatment 

If we want to benefit from our health literacy as patients, we need to be actively engaged and involved in our medical treatment. 

Take ownership of your treatment program. Participate in making decisions concerning your health, and also, be sure to exercise your right to informed consent and choice in terms of the methods that will be used to treat you.

As mentioned, we have the prerogative to decline treatment if it doesn’t feel right – and conversely, we have a right to receive adequate care.  

Improving our health literacy, then, improves our chances of receiving the positive level of care we require, and also, positions us as active participants in our own treatment programs. 

good communication

Final Thoughts

As patients, it’s imperative that we focus on developing our levels of health literacy. If we want to be able to exercise our rights to quality medical care, and also, our prerogative to decline treatment methods we don’t agree with, we need to be informed.

This can only happen if we make the effort to educate ourselves on the healthcare system, the treatments available, and the types of medical practitioners that will be treating us.

Armed with the relevant knowledge, we can better advocate for ourselves as patients, communicate more confidently with medical staff, and facilitate our active involvement and participation in our treatment.