How is health literacy addressed in primary care? Strategies that general practitioners use to support patients

Lisa Hedelund Lausen, Sian K. Smith, Antonia Cai, Bettina Meiser, Tatiane Yanes, Raghib Ahmad, Gillian Rowlands

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (SciVal)


Background: Low health literacy is associated with adverse health outcomes and raised healthcare costs. General practitioners (GPs) are the first point of access to health care services and play a key role in building patients’ health literacy. This study aimed to explore: (1) GPs’ understandings of health literacy, (2) the perceived challenges to addressing health literacy, and (3) the strategies used to support people with health literacy difficulties.

Method: A qualitative study in South Western Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Semi-structured qualitative interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Interview data were analyzed using the Framework method, a matrix-based approach to thematic analysis.

Results: Eighteen participants took part in the study. Four key themes were identified: (1) identifying patients with health literacy difficulties; (2) perceived consequences of low health literacy; (3) being sensitive to developing health literacy skills; and (4) strategies used to build health literacy. Intuitive skills were used to identify the patient’s health literacy skills through recurring encounters with patients over time. A range of communication techniques were used to build health literacy. The value of a long-term relationship with patients, and support from relatives, seem to be important in helping patients to build their health literacy skills.

Conclusions: A number of barriers may hinder building patient health literacy in general practice. An increased focus on the significance of health literacy, educationally and clinically across the entire health system can be a solution to overcome these barriers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Communication in Healthcare
Early online date8 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • General practice
  • communication barriers
  • health communication
  • health education
  • health knowledge
  • health literacy
  • patient education
  • qualitative

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Health Information Management


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