Adequately evaluating the health literacy level of every client or patient you see is neither feasible nor effective. As a result the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) recommends taking a Universal Precautions approach to health literacy:
Assume all patients or clients may have
difficulty comprehending health
information and accessing health services
To help clinicians, the AHRQ has put together a Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit.
Health Communication Basics
Effectively communicating with your clients, patients, and the general public is a crucial part of improving their health and well being.
So what is Health Communication?
Plain language is clear communication that the general public can easily understand. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has a great page explaining the details about plain language.
Plain Language Basics
Some resources to help you find plain language to replace complex or technical words.
Testing your Materials for Plain Language
Use these tools to help you figure out whether your handouts, displays, etc. use any language that might be hard for your audience to understand.
CDC Clear Communication Index
CDC Clear Communication Index (manual version) -
Use this version if you'd prefer to see the grading scale laid out in PDF rather than in the widget above.
More Education about Plain Language
Plain Language Medical Dictionary
The Teach Back Method
Here are some documents that will help you learn and improve your own teach back practice.
Before You Begin
Preparing the Content
Health Communication Theories
Evidence shows that grounding your health promotion activity in a communication theory leads to more effective outcomes (Corcoran, 2007).
Corcoran, N. (2007). Theories and models in communication health messages. In N. Corcoran (Ed.) Communicaing health: Strategies for health promotion. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Communicating with Children
Communicating with Older Adults
All of the principles on this page apply to older adults as well, but here are some additional tips for communicating with this population.
(adapted from The Gerontological Society of America's Communicating with Older Adults: An Evidence-Based Review of What Really Works)
Borrow these Guides from the Library
Methods and Recommendations
Communicating Across Cultures
All of the principles on this page apply to working with clients/patients who have cultural backgrounds different from your own, but here are some additional tips for working with these populations.
"How has your condition impacted your daily life?"
"What do you know about your condition and how it works?"
(Based on Betancourt, Green, & Carillo's Cross-Cultural Care and Communication, Up To Date, 2016)
For more details and recommendations about communicating across cultures, take a look at Better Communication, Better Care: Provider Tools to Care for Diverse Populations.
Cross-Cultural Communication and Language Differences
Aspects of culture such as norms and attitudes may impact provider-client communication, both verbal and non-verbal. In addition to the the resources on this page, the information sources on the Cultural Knowledge tab can help you learn more about such cultural factors.
Culturally effective providers are able to communicate with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) clients in culturally and linguistically appropriate ways. This means using an interpreter whenever possible and providing translated health information. The following resources have information on using interpreters, sources of translated health information handouts, and additional tools for communicating with LEP clients.
Please visit our Health Literacy and Communication guide for more resources and best practices for communicating with clients.