Health Literacy

Background Information

Health literacy is more than the ability to read and comprehend written medical information and instructions.
It has been recently defined as “the ability to make sound health decisions in the context of everyday life: at home, in the community, at the workplace, the health care system, the market place and the political arena.” (Kickbusch et al, 2005). Competencies encompassed by this definition include: basic health knowledge, reading, comprehending and evaluating health information, application of health preventing, promoting and self-care behaviours, verbal communication with health professionals, health decision-making, health advocacy and activism.

EPF's position

Health literacy is a topic close to EPF's heart. “Health literate patients, can they really make a difference?” was one of the key questions raised during the European Patients’ Forum's  Spring Conference dedicated to this theme, held on 8–9 April 2008 in Brussels. Health literacy does make a difference, as it is a key dimension of a citizen's right to health, has major economic consequences and is essential for equity, quality and efficiency of patient-centred healthcare systems.

In the context of the draft EU legislation on information to the general public on prescription medicines, (link to “information to patients”) EPF has argued consistently that the proposals should be seen as only one component in the wider context of an EU-wide strategy on information to patients and health literacy. EPF calls upon all EU Institutions to work together with all stakeholders, including patient organisations, to formulate a coherent and ambitious, patient-centred strategy on information to patients.

Key Steps


A new consensus paper on how to advance health literacy in Europe was launched on 4 October at the European Health Forum in Gastein, Austria. EPF contributed a patients’ perspective to this joint document, developed by a broad policy coalition composed of the Standing Committee of European Doctors (CPME), the Maastricht University and MSD. The document is available on the right-hand column.


We organised the EPF Spring Conference on Health Literacy on 8-9 April 2008 in Brussels. The event looked at health literacy from different perspectives, first and foremost from a patients' perspective. We released a report of the conference’s conclusions and provided recommendations that should be used to strengthen the health literacy component of the EU Health Strategy (see report below).