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Brown ArrowHealth Literacy and Cultural Competence

Health Literacy is defined in the National Library of Medicine's Current Bibliographies in Medicine: Health Literacy as "the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions" (Selden, Zorn, Ratzan, Parker, 2000)

Cultural and linguistic competence is a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system, agency, or among professionals that enables effective work in cross-cultural situations. 'Culture' refers to integrated patterns of human behavior that include the language, thoughts, communications, actions, customs, beliefs, values, and institutions of racial, ethnic, religious, or social groups. 'Competence' implies having the capacity to function effectively as an individual and an organization within the context of the cultural beliefs, behaviors, and needs presented by consumers and their communities.” (at Center for Linguistic and Cultural Competence in Health Care, cited 11/13/2013)

A specialized search for published research in PubMed has been developed to help inform investigations of health literacy. An extensive list of health literacy resources is also featured on this website.

Search Queries Using NLM and DHHS Resources: Health Literacy and Cultural Competency

News: Health Literacy and Cultural Competence

Data, Tools, and Statistics

  • AHRQ Pharmacy Health Literacy Center - (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ))  - This set of tools was developed to assist pharmacists in providing patients with appropriate and clear information.
  • CMS Health Literacy Toolkit - (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS))  - Provides a detailed and comprehensive set of tools to help make written material in printed formats easier for people to read, understand, and use.
  • Cultural and Linguistic Competency - (Office of Minority Health (OMH))  - Resources on cultural comptency and removing language and cultural barriers to health care for limited English-speaking populations.
  • Culture, Language and Health Literacy - (Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA))  - This collection of resources, including toolkits, videos, and workbooks, is aimed at healthcare providers, to enable them to better address the cultural, language and health literacy needs of their consumers.
  • Fry's Readability Graph - (Iowa Department of Public Health)  - This tool assists in assessing document readability.
  • Gunning-FOG Formula - (Iowa Department of Public Health)  - This tool provides a calculation for assessing document readability.
  • Health Communication, Health Literacy, and e-Health - (Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, HHS (ODPHP))  - The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) has pulled together key tools, research and reports, and resources for public health and health communication professionals.
  • Health Literacy Activities by State - (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC))  - This set of links provides information on local organizations and local government activities in the area of health literacy.
  • Health Literacy Measurement Tools (Revised) - (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ))  - This website provides access to three health literacy assessment tools: "Short Assessment of Health Literacy-Spanish and English", "Rapid Estimate of Adult Literacy in Medicine-Short Form", and "Short Assessment of Health Literacy for Spanish Adults"
  • Health Literacy Online, 2nd Edition - (Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, HHS (ODPHP))  - Guide for writing and designing easy-to-use health websites. Revised in 2016.
  • Health Literacy Tool Shed - (Boston University (BU))  - An online database of health literacy measurement tools, including their psychometric properties.
  • Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit - (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ))  - This toolkit is designed to assist primary care practices by providing a method to assess their services for health literacy considerations, raise awareness of the entire staff, and work on specific problem areas.
  • National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy - (Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) U.S.)  - The National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy seeks to engage organizations, professionals, policymakers, communities, individuals, and families in a linked, multisector effort to improve health literacy.
  • Pubmed Health: Health Literacy - (National Library of Medicine (NLM) U.S.)  - PubMed Health provides access to reviews of clinical effectiveness research, in this case relevant to health information literacy.
  • Quick Guide to Health Literacy - (Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, HHS (ODPHP))  - Provides an overview of health literacy concepts and techniques for improving health literacy. Designed for government employees, grantees and contractors, and community partners working in healthcare and public health fields. The tools can be applied to healthcare delivery, policy, administration, communication, and education activities aimed at the public.
  • The "SMOG" Readability Test (2008) images/pdf.gif icon - (University of South Carolina. Arnold School of Public Health USA)  - This tool assists in the assessment of readability in written documents.
  • Tool for Assessing Cultural Competence Training (TACCT) - (Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC))  - PDF and Excel spreadsheet for this self-administered assessment tool aimed at medical schools, to examine the components of the medical school curriculum. Guidelines for use of the tool, as well as a detailed bibliography are available.
  • Tool for Health Plans to Assess their Health Literacy Programs - (America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP))  - Developed by Emory University researcher Dr. Julie Gazmararian, working with the AHIP Health Literacy Task Force, this tool allows health plans to assess their health literacy programs and to use the assessments in the development and advancement of their initiatives.
  • Tracking CLAS - (Office of Minority Health (OMH))  - This map tracks state and territorial efforts to promote or implement culturally and linguistically appropriate services.

Guidelines, Journals, Other Publications

  • Designing Health Literate Mobile Apps - (National Academy of Medicine (NAM))  - This discussion paper presents a case study to assist developers in creating health literate mobile apps.
  • Health Literacy Fact Sheets - (Center for Health Care Strategies (CHCS) USA)  - This series of fact sheets was developed to assist clinicians, patient advocates, and other stakeholders in improving care for individuals with low health literacy.
  • Health Literacy: Past, Present, and Future: Workshop Summary (2015) - (National Academy of Medicine (NAM))  - The results of a November 2014 workshop, this report commemorated the anniversary of the inauguration of the IOM Roundtable on Health Literacy with an examination of the past, present, and future of the field at a local, national and international level.
  • Literacy and Health in America (2004) images/pdf.gif icon - (Educational Testing Service (ETS) USA)  - This policy information report from 2004 builds on two prior reports to demonstrate the effects of literacy on health status.
  • Plain Language - (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC))  - Provided on this website are tools aimed at assisting in the creation of jargon-free documents. Federal Guidelines from the Plain Language Action and Information Network are included.
  • Research-based Health Literacy Materials and Instruction Guide - (National Institute for Literacy US)  - These health literacy materials meet both the need of adults to enhance their literacy skills as well as their need to navigate the health care system and begin to achieve better health care for themselves and their families.
  • TIP 59: Improving Cultural Competence - (Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA))  - This treatment improvement protocol assists healthcare providers and administrators in understanding the role of culture in the delivery of substance abuse and mental health services.


  • Cultural Competence Education (2005) images/pdf.gif icon - (Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC))  - These educational standards were developed to introduce cultural competence into the medical curriculum.
  • Health Literacy for Public Health Professionals - (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC))  - Free web-based course to educate public health professionals on the importance of health literacy and their role in providing health information and services and promoting public health literacy.
  • Training from Organizations other than CDC - (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC))  - Training materials from government, educational, and private sources are included on this CDC website. Some courses offer CE credits.

Meetings/ Conferences /Webinars

Past Meetings

  • Dr. Rima Rudd on Health Literacy - (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC))  - Dr. Rudd discusses the need to define and develop health literacy environments that support scientific principles, integrate health literacy findings and are conducive to efficacious action at an April 2015 conference.
  • Informed Consent and Health Literacy: Workshop Summary - (National Academy of Medicine (NAM))  - The summary of a workshop held July 28, 2014, this report looks at the ways in which the informed consent process can be improved with health-literate communications methods.
  • Oral Health Literacy: Workshop Summary - (National Academy of Medicine (NAM))  - The results of a workshop held March 29, 2012, this book examines the issues of oral health and health literacy.

Upcoming Meetings

Key Organizations

  • Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality - AHRQ provides important resources aimed at improving health literacy as it pertains to prevention, healthy living, chronic disease management, patient-centered health care, cultural competence, and health disparities.
  • Center for Linguistic and Cultural Competency in Health Care - (Office of Minority Health (OMH))  - The mission of OMH is to improve and protect the health of racial and ethnic minority populations through the development of health policies and programs that will eliminate health disparities and promote cultural competency, through the Center for Linguistic and Cultural Competence. OMH also supports the OMHRC Knowledge Center Library, an extensive searchable resource.
  • Clear Communication: A NIH Health Literacy Initiative - (National Institutes of Health (NIH))  - The NIH Clear Communication Initiative focuses on tools and resources that address health literacy particularly as it relates to conveying scientific information and research: 1) Providing information in the form and with the content that is accessible to specific audiences based on cultural competence; and 2) Incorporating plain language approaches and new technologies.
  • Healthy People 2020: Health Communication and Health Information Technology - The Healthy People 2020 goals provide a science-based, 10-year national objectives for improving the health of all Americans. Among the goals are those aimed at 1)improving the health literacy of the population, and 2)increasing the proportion of persons who report that their health care providers have satisfactory communication skills.
  • National Center for Cultural Competence - (National Center for Cultural Competence (NCCC))  - The National Center for Cultural Competence (NCCC) provides national leadership and contributes to the body of knowledge on cultural and linguistic competency within systems and organizations. Major emphasis is placed on translating evidence into policy and practice for programs and personnel concerned with health and mental health care delivery, administration, education and advocacy.
  • Office of Minority Health (OMH) - (Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) U.S.)  - The mission of the Office of Minority Health (OMH) is to improve and protect the health of racial and ethnic minority populations through the development of health policies and programs that will eliminate health disparities. Detailed information on cultural competency can be found on this site.
  • Roundtable on Health Literacy - (National Academy of Medicine (NAM))  - This Roundtable is comprised of representatives from academia, industry, government, foundations, and associations, as well as from patient and consumer interests.
  • Think Cultural Health (TCH) - (Office of Minority Health (OMH))  - Provides resources and tools to promote cultural and linguistic competency in health care including access to free and accredited continuing education programs.