Australian society is facing a developing health literacy challenge. Whilst Australians are continually encouraged to take control of their health, through taking an active role in their own health care decisions and making ‘healthy’ lifestyle choices, the increasingly complex nature of the Australian health care system, along with access to often-conflicting information sources, presents a conundrum for most Australians. As Australians live longer, with the associated rise in chronic disease prevalence, and Governments seek to rationalise resources allocation to the health system, health literacy becomes an increasingly important consideration.
Health literacy relates to a person’s knowledge, motivation and competences to access, understand, appraise and apply health information in order to make judgements and take decisions in everyday life concerning health care, disease prevention and health promotion to maintain or improve quality of life (European Health Literacy Consortium 2012). Poor health literacy competencies amongst patients have been shown to result in less healthy choices, riskier behaviour, poorer health, less self-management and more hospitalization, leading to an increased burden on the health care system.
An important influence on health literacy is the information that the patient can access. In Australia health information can come from many sources in many different forms. With the increasing use of electronic resources the pool of information from which a patient can draw their knowledge is exponentially rising. However not all of this information is trustworthy.
Whilst research on health literacy has generally focussed on health literacy from the patient’s perspective, issues related to health literacy also extend to providers of health care services. It has been proposed that access to timely, relevant and accurate information about a patient’s health care history helps providers more efficiently manage their patients, providing better more coordinated and safer health care.
With the increasing use of digital technologies, electronic health records are viewed as a way of improving communication across health care providers to improve health care provider’s health literacy. However this form of patient health record is not without its concerns, including security and confidentiality.