Building health literacy in Australia

Don Nutbeam
Med J Aust 2009; 191 (10): . || doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2009.tb03301.x
Published online: 16 November 2009

To empower patients, we need to apply the knowledge gained from research

The final report of the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission, A healthier future for all Australians, has rightly stimulated debate in Australia about what it takes to create an equitable and sustainable health care system.1 The report draws attention to the importance of strengthened consumer engagement, boldly described as “giving people real control and choice about whether, how, where and when they use health services, supported by access to evidence-based information that facilitates informed choices”, as a platform for creating an “agile and self-improving health system”.1 Building health literacy is identified as a key strategy that will underpin strengthened consumer engagement.

  • 1 Office of the Vice Chancellor, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK.
  • 2 University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW.


  • 1. National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission. A healthier future for all Australians: final report June 2009. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, 2009. (accessed Aug 2009).
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  • 3. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Health literacy, Australia. Canberra: ABS, 2008. (ABS Cat. No. 4233.0.)$File/42330_2006.pdf (accessed Aug 2009).
  • 4. Institute of Medicine. Health literacy: a prescription to end confusion. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2004.
  • 5. Dewalt DA, Berkman ND, Sheridan S, et al. Literacy and health outcomes: a systematic review of the literature. J Gen Intern Med 2004; 19: 1228-1239.
  • 6. Pignone M, DeWalt D, Sheridan S, et al. Interventions to improve health outcomes for patients with low literacy. J Gen Intern Med 2005; 20: 185-192.
  • 7. Adams RJ, Appleton SL, Hill CL, et al. Risks associated with low functional health literacy in an Australian population. Med J Aust 2009; 191: 530-534. <MJA full text>
  • 8. Smith SK, Trevena L, Nutbeam D, et al. Information needs and preferences of low and high literacy consumers for decisions about colorectal cancer screening: utilizing a linguistic model. Health Expect 2008; 11: 123-136.
  • 9. United Kingdom Department of Health; Department for Education and Skills. Skilled for Health. London: DH; DfES, 2006. (accessed Aug 2009).
  • 10. Nutbeam D, Wise M, Bauman A, et al. Goals and targets for Australia’s health in the year 2000 and beyond. Report for the Commonwealth Department of Health, Housing and Community Services. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service, 1993.


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