Health literacy encompasses the knowledge, motivations and skills of people to find, understand, judge and apply relevant health information to make decisions in the areas of health promotion, prevention and disease management. It relates to the interplay between individual abilities and skills and the demands people face in these areas.
Health literacy has become a political goal and has gained much attention in the past years. Policy-makers and politicians have become interested in strategies to improve the health literacy of their citizens.
Health Target 3: To enhance health literacy in the population
In 2012, ten health targets for Austria were approved by the Federal Health Commission of Austria and the Austrian Council of Ministers. The ten health targets will be in force until 2032. Overall, they aim at improving the health of all people living in Austria, irrespective of their level of education, income or situation in life.
The health targets are based on a number of guiding principles. The most relevant are “orientation towards health determinants”, “health-in-all-policies” and “promoting health equity”. Therefore the targets take into account the health determinants and policy areas that are most relevant in this respect.
The first European-comparative Health Literacy Survey in 2011 demonstrated a clear need for action in Austria as compared to other European countries. Therefore, the Austrian government devoted one of the ten inter-sectoral health targets to the improvement of population health literacy. In 2014, the Austrian Health Literacy Alliance was founded in order to support implementing Health Target 3.
The Austrian Health Literacy Alliance
In 2015, the Austrian Health Literacy Alliance started its work. A “core team” was established as a decision-making body. It consists of members of the federal government, federal states, social security institutions and Health in All Policies (HiAP) partners. It is chaired by a representative of the Austrian Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection acts as chair of. The coordinating centre of the Alliance supports the core team and acts as a knowledge centre. Members of the Alliance are organsations or persons whose activities and projects support Health Target 3.
To support the priorities of Health Target 3 the Alliance fulfills the following tasks:
- Support sustainable development and establishment of health literacy in Austria
- Promote networking, collaboration, and knowledge transfer
- Coordinate measures between different political and social sectors
- Foster a common understanding of health literacy, spread knowledge and facilitate innovation
- Establish monitoring and reporting, and ensure transparency and quality
In order to improve health literacy in the population, intersectoral working groups have been installed to develop guidelines, tools and activities. Relatedly, the Alliance has 5 focus areas:
- High-quality health information
- High-quality communication in healthcare
- Health-literate organizations
- Empowerment of citizens and patients
- Measuring health literacy
Examples of tools and activities developed in these working groups include (but are not limited to): criteria to improve written and audio information; a national training program for healthcare professionals; self-assessment tools for organizations; or the adaption of the „Ask me 3“ program. In addition, the Health Literacy Measurement Working Group conducted the Austrian Health Literacy Survey (HLS19‐AT) and developed recommendations on strengthening health literacy in Austria.
Health Target 3 sets three priorities:
- Improve health literacy-friendliness of the healthcare system
- Improve individual health literacy (with focus on vulnerable groups)
- Improve health literacy-friendliness of the economic system