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Low Health Literacy: A Challenge to Critical Care

Riley, Joan B. MS, APRN, BC-FNP; Cloonan, Patricia PhD, RN; Norton, Colleen DNSc, RN, CCRN


Health literacy—“the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions”—has been identified as a cross-cutting quality-of-care issue by the Institute of Medicine. This article defines the scope of the health literacy problem, discusses the literacy demands of critical care, and offers strategies for nurses to improve the quality of health communication with patients and families in the critical care environment.

Departments of Professional Nursing (Ms Riley and Dr Norton) and Health Systems Administration (Dr Cloonan), School of Nursing and Health Studies, Georgetown University, Washington, DC.

Corresponding author: Joan B. Riley, MS, APRN, BC-FNP, Department of Professional Nursing, School of Nursing and Health Studies, Georgetown University, 3700 Reservoir Rd NW, Washington, DC 20057 (e-mail:

© 2006 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.