National Academy of Medicine
Discussion Paper

Health Literacy: A Necessary Element for Achieving Health Equity

By Robert A. Logan, National Library of Medicine; Winston F. Wong, Kaiser Permanente; Michael Villaire, Institute for Healthcare Advancement; Gem Daus, Health Resources and Services Administration; Terri Ann Parnell, Health Literacy Partners, Earnestine Willis, Medical College of Wisconsin, and Michael K. Paasche-Orlow, Boston University School of Medicine
July 24, 2015

A core aim for improving health care is to provide equitable care or “care that does not
vary in quality because of personal characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, geographic
location, and socioeconomic status.” We believe that an essential ingredient in the
effort to increase health equity and reduce health disparities is eliminating health literacy
barriers. The challenge of aligning health care system demands and complexities with individual
skills and abilities across the spectrum of public health and clinical delivery will be difficult, but
critical in the effort to achieve health equity.

In this paper, we intend to demonstrate that the concepts of health literacy, health equity,
and health disparities are connected, both in practice and in research.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this Perspective are those of the authors and not necessarily of the authors’ organizations, the National Academy of Medicine (NAM), or the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (the National Academies). The Perspective is intended to help inform and stimulate discussion. It has not been subjected to the review procedures of, nor is it a report of, the NAM or the National Academies. Copyright by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.