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North Carolina Health Literacy: Clear Health Communication Tools and Resources

This guide serves as the information hub for health literacy resources and efforts at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as well as throughout the state of North Carolina.

Created by Health Science Librarians

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On this page you will find a number of videos, tutorials and guides to explain why and how to incorporate health literacy principles in your practice, as well as quick-start guides to help you get started. The following resources cover how to: 

  • Ensure your patients feel welcome and help them navigate your practice
  • Improve communication with you patients in clinical encounters
  • Create and assess patient print and online education materials. 

Tutorials: Using Lay Language in Health Communication

The following modules explore the importance of using lay language in health communication. They explain how to assess and improve readability of materials using clear communications techniques, as well as outline sources of health information for patients. All modules were produced by the Health Sciences Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In the module 1 video (10.56 min), we’ll cover why you should use plain language, also known as lay language, to communicate with your patients or the general public. Contents include:

  • Definitions of health literacy and plain language
  • Health literacy levels in the United States
  • Examine the relationship between health literacy and patient outcomes
  • Examine the relationship between health literacy and patient outcomes
  • Learn to recognize and meet the needs of patients with low health literacy skills using either validated tools or adopting the Health Literacy Universal Precautions approach



Links to resources covered in Module 1:


In the module 2 video (10.41 min), we’ll cover readability, an important component of creating materials that are understandable to people with varying health literacy levels. Contents include:

  • What is readability?
  • How readability formulas work
  • Factors that affect readability
  • Recommended reading grade levels
  • Ways to calculate reading grade level of materials


Links to resources covered in Module 2:


In the module 3 video (9.49 min), we’ll cover resources that can assist you in developing patient education materials. Contents include:

  • A selection of plain language tools
  • Review of best practices for formatting and writing patient education materials
  • Using or modifying existing materials
  • Two tools to help you develop and revise materials


Links to resources covered in Module 3:


In the module 4 video (9.03 min), we'll cover putting plain language into practice through effective communication. Contents include:

  • Effective patient-provider interactions
  • Substituting words for better comprehension
  • Using or modifying existing materials
  • Best practices including the Teach-Back Method


Links to resources covered in Module 4:


In the module 5 video (6.23 min), we'll cover recommended free, reliable, and authoritative online sources of health information that you can refer your patients or their families to, as well as information on how the library and librarians can be of assistance. Contents include:

  • Consumer Health site from the National Library of Medicine, one of the National Institutes of Health
  • Consumer Health site from the Health Sciences Library (HSL), University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
  • "Ask a Librarian" service from the HSL


Links to resources covered in Module 5:


15 best practices for patient-centered communication

This video demonstrates 15 best practices for patience centered communications, organized under habits. 

Watch 15 best practices for patient-centered communication (18.18 min.)

The Teach-back Method

The teach-back method is a way to ensure patients understands what is being explained to them by their healthcare provider. If they understand, they are able to correctly “teach-back” the information. The following videos demonstrate various aspects of the teach-back method.

Implementing Health Literacy in Your Practice


AHRQ Universal Precautions Toolkit

Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit

The AHRQ Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit provides evidence-based guidance for pediatrics and general practitioners on eliminating unnecessary complexities in health care delivery. Doing so improves patient understanding of health information. The toolkit contains 21 tools, as well as a Quick Start Guide to help you assess health literacy in your practice.

Toolkit for Engaging Patients To Improve Diagnostic Safety (AHRQ)

The toolkit contains two strategies, Be The Expert On You and 60 Seconds To Improve Diagnostic Safety. When paired together, these strategies enhance communication and information sharing within the patient-provider encounter to improve diagnostic safety. Each strategy contains practical materials to support adoption of the strategy within office-based practices.

National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy

This National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy seeks to engage organizations, professionals, policymakers, communities, individuals, and families in a linked, multi-pronged effort to improve health literacy. The plan is based on the principles that (1) everyone has the right to health information that helps them make informed decisions and (2) health services should be delivered in ways that are understandable and beneficial to health, longevity, and quality of life.

Communicating with Patients


How to Create Actionable and Engaging Patient Education (Lifeology)

This course will help you learn to create patient education that engaging, helps people make sense of health information, and it’s easy to understand and act on.

Health Literacy Online: A Guide for Simplifying the User Experience (ODPHP)

Helps you develop intuitive health websites and digital tools that can be easily accessed and understood by all users.

Choosing Effective Patient Education Materials - MedlinePlus

Guidelines for selecting patient education materials.

Develop & Test Health Literacy Materials from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

These resources assist with understanding your audience, visual communication, and testing messages and materials when developing a wide array of health information.

Ask Me 3

This program is designed to improve communication between patients and health care providers, encourage patients to become active members of their health care team, and promote improved health outcomes. The program encourages patients to ask their health care providers three questions:

  1. What is my main problem?
  2. What do I need to do?
  3. Why is it important for me to do this?

Training and Additional Learning


Health Literacy for Health Professionals (CDC)

The purpose of this public health literacy web-based training program is to educate public health professionals about public health literacy and their role in providing health information and services and promoting public health literacy.

Find Training for Health Professionals (CDC)

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers 6 online health literacy courses for health professionals.

Terri Ottosen, MLIS, AHIP

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Terri Ottosen