In August 2020, the U.S. government updated its definition of health literacy as part of the Healthy People 2030 initiative to include both personal health literacy and organizational health literacy: 

  1. Personal health literacy is an individual’s ability to find, understand, and use information to inform health-related decisions and behaviors for themselves and others. 
  2. Organizational health literacy is related to how organizations equitably enable individuals on their path to personal health literacy.  

These updated definitions also place greater emphasis on a person’s ability to use their health information (rather than just understand it) and become an active participant in their care journey. Well-informed decisions and lifestyle changes can improve individual health and wellbeing as well as help to avoid adverse events that contribute to 40% of total healthcare spending 


What does this mean for health equity? 

According to the CDC, the new organizational definition traces a direct line between health literacy and health equity as a key factor in improving overall public health. While health literacy initiatives make information clearer, health equity initiatives will make that information more accessible and inclusive. Individuals are more likely to comprehend and use information if it also addresses unique needs related to their language, culture, learning style, socioeconomic status, geography and so on.  

As a producer of health information, healthcare organizations with conscientious leaders recognize they have a responsibility to meet the needs of the individuals they serve.  


4 ways to advance organizational health literacy 

  1. Improve information sharing by using plain, person-first language that is designed to provide clear understanding but also engage individuals in the healthcare process. This also includes improving access to such information by way of online databases, written communications, and specially trained support staff.  
  2. Integrate social determinants of health (SDOH) into assessments and interventions to address factors that impact health literacy. Adults aged 65 or older, those who did not attend or graduate from high school, those who live at or below the poverty level, and those who speak a language other than English often have lower health literacy. [source] 
  3. Facilitate multidirectional communication and exchange of data between individuals, caregivers, and healthcare providers, including guidance to receiving care on how to have more effective conversations during limited in-person interactions with their providers.  
  4. Empower individuals and caregivers with expert support, tools, and resources tailored to their specific needs that will increase capacity to self-manage—including clinical education, device training, and group learning opportunities.  


The impact of virtual specialty care on improved health literacy 

Person-centered care models of the past put much of the burden to educate those managing their health  on healthcare providers. Given the growing number of Americans diagnosed with chronic and comorbid conditions [source] combined with impending physician shortages [source] and burnout exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic [source], this is an untenable approach. 

Individuals need continuous support to not only navigate the ever-evolving, complex healthcare system but also their condition—including all the micro-decisions necessary for effective self-management, the majority of which occur outside the scope of a doctor’s visit. Access to clinical resources can make all the difference on an individual’s health, especially between primary care visits but even more so for the nearly one-quarter of Americans that do not have a primary care provider [source]. Existing health plan care management programs and pharma-sponsored patient support services can close some of the gaps, but often lack the resources to effectively scale operations to reach and effectively engage populations in a personalized way. 

At Cecelia Health, we are shaping the future of health through a better virtual healthcare experience that helps health plans, health systems, pharma, and other industry stakeholders reach more individuals with clinical support and education. We expand access to expert clinicians and specialty providers and work one-on-one with people living with complex health conditions including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, obesity, and respiratory conditions. Through proactive outreach and omnichannel engagement, we can uncover and address unique barriers to medication adherence while increasing personal health literacy: 

  1. Dynamic content is delivered through video, phone, email, and text using language that participants can understand and personalized for their specific needs, including culture and language. Participants also have access to online resources and group learning.  
  2. Each of our credentialed clinicians is specially trained in motivational interviewing techniques to understand how SDOH impacts participants’ ability to self-manage, providing referrals as appropriate. 
  3. With Cecelia Health’s virtual platform, we can foster engagement while collecting critical datapoints that participants, caregivers, and providers can access for more informed decision-making. 
  4. Participants receive education, training, and support specific to their condition, medication, and device but also learn how to interpret their health data, have effective conversations with their providers, and make realistic SMART goals that lead to lasting behavior change. 

Through 10+ years of virtual interactions, we have seen firsthand how health literacy and self-management can improve with expert guidance and clinical support. After receiving condition-specific education from a dedicated Cecelia Health clinician, 90% of participants feel they have the skills and confidence to better manage their health.  



Health literacy, both personal and organizational, can have a tremendous impact on individual health as well as public health goals. With the modernization of healthcare—from the 21st Century Cures Act to new treatment tech to virtual care visits—there are incredible possibilities on the horizon to improve health literacy for a more inclusive and equitable experience for all.  


About the Author

Teresa McArthur is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist with a Masters Degree in Clinical Nutrition. Teresa has experience working with diabetes, health and wellness, nutrition support, weight and chronic disease management. She has worked in various capacities including higher education, long-term acute care, critical care, community nutrition, and inpatient and outpatient accredited diabetes management programs.

Teresa has a wealth of experience working with children and adults with type 1 and type 2 diabetes and women with gestational diabetes while serving as a diabetes educator in the inpatient, outpatient and community settings. Teaching patients how to understand their diabetes and providing them with the tools they need to manage their diabetes has been her passion for many years. She believes nothing is more rewarding then to inspire and empower patients with the knowledge and skills they need to reach their goals while in return witness their health and quality of life improve. Teresa understands that diabetes impacts every aspect of a person’s life; therefore, working with patients to identify specific barriers and setting realistic and sustainable goals is the key to lifelong success.