National Academy of Medicine

Strategies to Enhance Numeracy Skills

By Andrew Pleasant, Megan Rooney, Catina O’Leary, Laurie Myers, and Rima Rudd
May 05, 2016 | Discussion Paper

Individuals make decisions about health and well-being every day. Many of those decisions involve using and understanding numbers, and most of the decisions are made quickly, at home or at work, as a person goes about a daily routine. Even with adequate time, many people lack the skills to make good use of numerical information to help them make informed decisions. Health professionals and health systems also often communicate numerical information poorly, increasing the challenge.

We aim in this paper to provide guiding principles for communicating numbers in a clear, simple way. These principles can be used by health professionals interacting with patients; health systems creating and giving information about diseases, treatments, prevention, cost, and covered services; and health plans explaining the cost of deductibles, co-pays, maximum out-of-pocket costs, tiered coverage for medicines, and quality. Pharmaceutical and medical device companies also have a great opportunity to explain the risks and benefits of medicines and devices. No matter how different these organizations appear, they all should take the opportunity to help foster improved health decision making by presenting data and numbers clearly.



Suggested Citation

Pleasant, A., M. Rooney, C. O’Leary, L. Myers, and R. Rudd. 2016. Strategies to Enhance Numeracy Skills. NAM Perspectives. Discussion Paper, National Academy of Medicine, Washington, DC. doi: 10.31478/201605b


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this paper 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 paper is intended to help inform and stimulate discussion. It is not a report of the NAM or the National Academies. Copyright by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.