Health Literacy

Clear health communication is essential during the COVID-19 pandemic response – and our collective well-being depends on it.

Access to information and the ability to follow public health guidelines is vital to both slowing down the spread of COVID-19 and mitigating its impact and effects. People need to know how to critically assess the information they receive and then act to protect themselves, their family and our communities.

Under normal circumstances, about 60% of Canadian adults and 88% of seniors have trouble accessing, understanding, and acting on information for health (2).

Under stress, a person’s health literacy levels have shown to drop for even further. (3)

The ability of people to acquire and apply health information and adapt behaviour is more critical than ever before.

The exploding the overwhelm of COVID-19 information and its high expectations for controlling health has highlighted an underestimated public health problem – poor health literacy among a population affects everyone.

What do health systems, governments and people need to understand about health literacy for an effective response to COVID-19?

We must consider the health literacy of all people in our health communications – especially those most vulnerable in our communities. We must recognize that culture plays an important role in health communication, and that health communication is affected by belief systems, communication styles and prior knowledge and understanding.

By writing and designing materials that are easy to read, understand, and use, we help everyone. Using clear language is NOT dumbing down. It’s opening up.

For many years, our society has been facing increasing demands to access health information in new ways and increasing rates of chronic illness require individuals to manage their own care more than before. Low levels of health literacy are already related to poorer health outcomes and to increased health care costs (4). During this crisis and into the future, health literacy is everyone’s concern.

Clear language benefits everyone. Right now it could be a matter of life and death.


Health Literacy

Health literacy is the ability to obtain, read, understand, and use healthcare information in order to make appropriate health decisions and follow instructions for treatment. (1)


Health Literacy: Why it is Important

Saskatchewan Health Authority fact sheet

Clear Language and Design

From the Saskatchewan Health Authority

Insights from Thought Leaders

View our recent interview with Erin Bechwell, Knowledge Translation Specialist and Policy Analyst, Saskatchewn Health Authority

Key Insights on Health Equity

View a list of key insights from Erin Beckwell’s interview.

Key Insights on Health Literacy

View a list of key insights from Erin Beckwell’s interview.

Interview Transcript

Access a shortened version of the interview transcript.

Featured Health Literacy Resources

We’ve compiled the most relevant articles and resources exploring COVID-19 and considerations of health literacy. Check out our most recent or featured additions to our resource library.

Explore more on Health Literacy in the Resource Library

COVID-19: a guide to good practice on keeping people well informed

COVID-19: a guide to good practice on keeping people well informed

Health literacy is vital to slowing down the spread of the virus and mitigating the impact and effects of COVID-19. This article describes what’s needed to ensure that health authorities apply health literacy principles and provide information that is easy-to-understand, easy-to access, and barrier free.

Culturally Connected

Culturally Connected

Culturally connected is an approach that brings together cultural humility and health literacy to help care providers and their clients develop shared understanding of each other’s values, beliefs, needs and priorities. By working from a cultural humility perspective...

Four Directions Community Health Center

Four Directions Community Health Center

Four Directions is providing virtual support, mail-out resources and phones for their community members to prevent isolation from their loved ones and accessing care during the pandemic.


  1. Roundtable on Health Literacy; Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice; Institute of the Medicine (10 February 2012). Facilitating State Health Exchange Communication Through the Use of Health Literate Practices: Workshop Summary. National Academies Press. p. 1. 
  2. Rootman, I. & Gordon-El-Bihbety, D. (2008). A vision for a health literate Canada: Report of the expert panel on health literacy. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Public Health Association. 2
  3. World Health Organization. (2013). Health Literacy: The Solid Facts.
  4. Mitic, W., & Rootman, I. (2012). An intersectoral approach to improving health literacy for Canadians: A discussion paper. Victoria, BC: Public Health Association of British Columbia. 3