Health Literacy and Its Importance in the Nursing Care


With the emergence of the Internet, people have gained access to a vast amount of knowledge that can help them increase the level of basic and health literacy. Yet, the variety of information often means a lack of credibility. Thousands of websites offer definitions of illnesses, descriptions of symptoms, diagnoses, etc. Thus, due to the high chance of being misled by the plethora of sources of undefined value, there is a need to review the role professional nurses play in educating the population, strategies to assist patients to evaluate the credibility of an online source, and basic strategies to increase their level of internet health literacy.

Nurses’ Role in Improving Health Literacy

Nurses as providers of high-quality health services and information are essential agents in the process of improving the health literacy of the population. As such, they can assess and evaluate the credibility of online sources of information themselves, as they possess an adequate level of health literacy and online literacy to do so. They can relay this information and the results of their evaluations to their patients. Nurses’ role is also in providing relevant and valid information to patients in an understandable form to divert them from using untrustworthy sources to seek definitions and interpretations themselves.

Resource to Evaluate Online Health Information

Presently, there is no automated tool that can check the credibility of a website or the information it provides. However, there are trustworthy sources that provide guidelines on how to evaluate information found online. For instance, Georgetown University Library offers a comprehensive checklist, following which one could assess the credibility of any online source of information (“Evaluating internet resources,” n.d.). It consists of several dozens of questions, answering which an individual can evaluate a website and its content. National Library of Medicine offers a tutorial on how to assess health information found online (“Evaluating internet health information: A tutorial from the national library of medicine,” n.d.). This tutorial teaches users to evaluate credibility through the means of posing questions to a resource. Using those instruments one can define how credible is the source of health information they found.

Strategies to Increase Patients’ Health Literacy

One of the strategies to improve health literacy in patients is to strengthen communication between them and health providers. With the poor level of communication, nurses or other health care professionals may not notice and adequately assess the level of health literacy in their patients to adjust their delivery. Therefore, there is a need for nurses to know how literate are their patients at least at a basic level to help them become informed consumers of online health information. Another strategy is to improve patients’ comprehension of health information given by professionals. Proportionately giving information, avoiding jargon, and delicately answering all the questions would reduce the patients’ need to use untrustworthy resources to self-diagnose illnesses or self-prescribe medicine. In delivering information to patients, doctors and nurses need to advise patients on what sources are credible and where they can seek additional information.


All in all, health literacy became a serious concern due to the emergence of a plethora of websites on the Internet. However, nurses can help alleviate the issue by providing their patients with explanations about their conditions and medications to decrease their need to use untrustworthy websites to fill their knowledge gaps. In addition, they may advise patients on how to evaluate sources or provide them with credible ones.


Evaluating internet health information: A tutorial from the national library of medicine. (n.d.). Web.

Evaluating internet resources (n.d.). Web.