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Health Literacy and Communication for Health Professionals

In the United States, two-thirds of the population read at an eight-grade level or below. When it comes to health information, most Americans have the ability to read and write at the fifth-grade level. This inter-professional course aims to give health professionals the tools needed to improve upon their health literacy and communication skills.


Course at a Glance

About the Course

This inter-professional course will help educate a variety of health professionals about health literacy efforts and improved communication skills. It will require your active participation in creating health literate interactions at various organizational levels. This course will provide the opportunity to reinforce existing opportunities to work together as a multidisciplinary team or fill a gap if you haven’t had an opportunity to do so yet!

Upon completion of the course, you will be able to:

1.     Define health literacy and how it applies to all health disciplines. 

2.     List the varied factors that influence health literacy and health communication. 

3.     Identify who is affected by health literacy and health communication. 

4.     Recognize the consequences of limited health literacy and poor health communication. 

5.     Determine the stakeholders in health literacy and health communication. 

6.     Recognize the role of health literacy in meeting core health service across disciplines. 

7.      Apply strategies to improve health literacy at the group, organizational, community, and policy levels

In addition to these course objectives, it is key to the success of the student that participants understand their responsibilities of working as a part of an inter-professional health care team. The basis of patient-centered care and the foundation of the medical home model is that health professionals will learn and implement skills to meet the community’s health needs in the context of the community’s daily lives—which is their reality! That includes recognizing the social determinants of health, such as complex social, economic, environmental, and political factors, that impact both the public’s wellness and their health literacy, too.

One initial step – a recommended prerequisite to beginning this online course – is to first complete the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s self-directed online training, “Health Literacy for Public Health Professionals”. It provides a good foundation about health literacy in three brief, interactive lessons which will take about 1.5-2 hours to complete.

We are also using the Institute of Medicine’s Roundtable on Health Literacy discussion paper, “Ten Attributes of Health Literate Health Care Organizations” as a guide.  This online course will assist its participants in understanding that health literacy needs to be an organizational value and embraced as part of the organization’s core business. 

A phrase that we often like to use is “help a person connect the dots”. By this we mean we need to make sure that understanding of health information exists. An example of this would be thinking if someone is advised they need to take a medication, or told they need to change daily choices and behaviors to improve health that it will simply happen as directed. But, there are many necessary steps, strategies, and skills in communication for the advice being given to actually happen.  Often, current health professionals and health care settings often assume that “one size fits all” when it comes to communicating health messages.  This course will focus on some approaches to becoming a health literate health care organization by using scenarios with actors based on patient experiences, by also letting patients share their experiences in their own words, and by offering suggestions for improvement in health communication.

We hope you join us and become an agent of change both in your own discipline and as a member of an inter-professional team in health care organizations going forward!

Course Syllabus

The course consists of the following eight modules:

  1. Literacy: Its role in health care organizations
  2. Initiation: Preparing the health care workforce
  3. They: Who are we serving?
  4. Equipped: Using the best tools for communication
  5. Results: Evaluating our efforts
  6. Access: Providing plain information
  7. Transferring Information: Using the best channels
  8. Essential Skills: Communicating high risk and care transitions

Each module in this course will focus on one or two attributes to guide you in exploring an action in your discipline as well as how being a member of an inter-professional team has advantages for improving organizational responses to health literacy.

Recommended Background

Anyone interested in Health Literacy and Communication is encouraged to enroll.  

Course Format

This course keeps things very simple because that is the message of what health literacy and good communication of health messaging is all about!

The course provides many resources for your reference, but does not require the use of a particular textbook. Instead, there are online documents, online trainings, and online audio/video files that we incorporate; all of which are either in the public domain or have granted permission to be used for this course.

The framework for the course is based on these core resources:

· Healthy People 2020

· Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Training Course “Health Literacy for Public Health Professionals”

· Institute of Medicine’s discussion paper, “Ten Attributes of Health Literate Health Care Organizations” (2012)

· National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy (2010)

· The Calgary Charter on Health Literacy: Rationale and Core Principles for the Development of Health Literacy Curricula (2008)

In addition to these quality resources, this course incorporates:

· Weekly video lectures

·  Video vignettes based on actual patient experiences to demonstrate examples of both poor and improved health information communication exchanges (scripted actors)

· ‘On-the-street’ intercept interviews with student volunteers from a variety of health care disciplines (“pre-professionals”)

· Interviews with health professional faculty (guided discussions)

· Patient perspectives;  patient experiences in their own words

· Standardized patient focus groups (facilitated discussions)

Students will be asked to participate in discussion forums, complete a quiz for each module, and complete multiple peer reviewed assessments throughout the course. 


  • What can I earn for completing this class?

    Students who successfully complete the class will receive a Statement of Accomplishment signed by the instructor. Students who complete the course on Signature Track will receive a Verified Certificate.

  • Students with a Verified Certificate will be eligible for Continuing Education units from the University of Nebraska Medical Center (additional fees apply). For more information, see: