Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality commissioned the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to develop and test this Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit. The toolkit offers primary care practices a way to assess their services for health literacy considerations, raise awareness of the entire staff, and work on specific areas.

What Are Health Literacy Universal Precautions?

Health literacy is the ability to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate decisions. Over a third of patients have limited health literacy, which results in their not understanding what they need to do to take care of their health. Limited health literacy is associated with poor management of chronic diseases, poor ability to understand and adhere to medication regimes, increased hospitalizations, and poor health outcomes.

Universal precautions refers to taking specific actions that minimize risk for everyone when it is unclear which patients may be affected. For example, health care workers take universal precautions when they minimize the risk of bloodborne disease by using gloves and proper disposal techniques. Health literacy universal precautions are needed because providers don't always know which patients have limited health literacy.

How Can This Toolkit Help?

Experts recommend assuming that everyone may have difficulty understanding and creating an environment where all patients can thrive. Research suggests that clear communication practices and removing literacy-related barriers will improve care for all patients, regardless of their level of health literacy.

This toolkit is designed to help adult and pediatric practices ensure that systems are in place to promote better understanding by all patients, not just those you think need extra assistance. The toolkit is divided into manageable chunks so that its implementation can fit into the busy day of a practice. It contains the following:

  • Quick Start Guide.
  • Path to Improvement (6 steps to take to implement the toolkit).
  • 20 Tools (2-5 pages each).
  • Appendices (over 25 resources such as sample forms, PowerPoint presentations, and worksheets).

Select to download a copy of the toolkit [PDF file PDF File - 5.51 MB].

Additional Resources

Additional resources related to this toolkit are located at: http://www.nchealthliteracy.org/toolkit/

Select to access a video of Dr. Darren DeWalt describing implementation of health literacy universal precautions using the toolkit.

For information about how the toolkit was developed, see the article, "Developing and testing the health literacy universal precautions toolkit." Select to access an abstract of the article.

Related Impact Case Studies 

Kentucky Area Health Education Center
http://www.ahrq.gov/policymakers/case-studies/201408.html

Mayo Clinic Transplant Center
http://www.ahrq.gov/policymakers/case-studies/201407.html

AHRQ Health Literacy Tool Helps Pennsylvania's Learning Collaborative
http://www.ahrq.gov/policymakers/case-studies/201405.html

Highmark Uses AHRQ Materials in Health Literacy Outreach Program
http://www.ahrq.gov/policymakers/case-studies/cp31202.html

University of Missouri Uses AHRQ's Health Literacy Toolkit to Train and Coach Physicians
http://www.ahrq.gov/policymakers/case-studies/cp31103.html

AHRQ Health Literacy Tool Helps University of Wisconsin School of Pharmacy Educate Students and Community Pharmacists
http://www.ahrq.gov/policymakers/case-studies/cp31310.html

Massachusetts Community Health Center Improves Communication With Health Literacy Toolkit
http://www.ahrq.gov/policymakers/case-studies/cdom1401.html

American Academy of Physician Assistants Recommends AHRQ's Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit
http://www.ahrq.gov/policymakers/case-studies/cp31204.html

Saint Louis University School of Medicine Incorporates AHRQ's Health Literacy Toolkit Into Curriculum
http://www.ahrq.gov/policymakers/case-studies/cp31201.html

Page last reviewed September 2014
Internet Citation: Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit. September 2014. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/professionals/quality-patient-safety/quality-resources/tools/literacy-toolkit/index.html