Section 1 of the Guide provides an introduction to health literacy.


Building awareness


As a starting point, build awareness of health literacy across your organisation.


This helps people understand that health literacy is about the way in which services are provided, and builds support for a review.


This video has examples of how different organisations have gone about building health literacy awareness and support.


Video transcript

Margie Apa (Director Strategic Development, CMDHB):

The symposium was one of the very important things we did at the beginning, to prepare colleagues for health literacy. The symposium was a really neat way of bringing together people who had common issues and challenges. After all, they’re all serving the same diverse population and all – very different clinical health service issues, but very common approaches and very simple things that people did that seemed to support patient’s awareness.

Christine McKay (Portfolio Manager, Oral Health & Child Health, CMDHB):

To really introduce the whole health literacy review, we went out and met with the various team manager meetings so that right from the top, from the governance, they fully understood and the response was amazingly proactive. In fact, we almost had to run a lottery to choose which clinics to do interviews and observations in.

Dr John Falkiner (Managing Director, Mighty Mouth Dental):

We have regular all staff meetings and an integral part of one of those meetings was a discussion of health literacy. I explained that it’s concerned with patient understanding throughout the supply chain and it involves many aspects.

Cheryl Goodyer (Manager, Capability, Māori Health Development Group, CCDHB):

Initially we spoke to lots of people around the organisation. We covered quite a realm of potential stakeholders so we discussed it with the communication team, with our patient safety officer, with people from our quality department as well as operational managers to establish essentially what they knew about health literacy and their interest in a project and moving forward because at that point we hadn’t decided how we would align the project with other work that was going on within the organisation.

Lauren Demblon (Practice Manager, Kerikeri Medical Centre):

We explained health literacy to our staff by just keeping it simple. Just talking to them about what patients hear and how we say things. So it was just about communication and without the big words and the strategies that you can put out there. It was just about ‘what do we say and what do people hear’.

John Wigglesworth (Chief Executive Officer, Hokianga Health):

When the opportunity of the review came along, we discussed it with staff, what was involved, making sure that everybody was up with the play of understanding the definitions of health literacy.

Rose Lightfoot (Chief Executive Officer, Te Tai Tokerau PHO):

We invited Workbase to come up. We had some workshop sessions and talked with staff about what it would involved and what we were looking at and so it wasn’t a blaming process. It was an enriching process of actually developing a new set of skills to put in our kitty of knowledge for what we needed to do.

[Logos: Ministry of Health and Workbase]

Things to consider if you’re thinking about carrying out a review


  • Do people across your organisation know what it means to be a health literate organisation?
  • Does your leadership support becoming a health literate organisation?
  • Is your organisation prepared to make changes as the result of a review?
  • What are the benefits you are looking for?
  • What are the risks of a review?
  • Do you have the resources required?