February 21, 2024

Using waiting areas as a place to promote health literacy

In an article published in International Health Promotion Journal, researchers reviewed how waiting areas of primary care or outpatient health services can improve health literacy among consumers attending appointments.

Study: Do health service waiting areas contribute to consumer health literacy? Scope review. Image Credit: Medical-R/Shutterstock.com


Health literacy is a person’s level of ability to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services necessary to make safe health choices. Increased health care costs, poor health outcomes, and less use of preventive interventions are all linked to low health literacy.

Healthcare waiting areas are a regular location where consumers access health resources, information and support. However, the importance of waiting areas in improving health literacy and related outcomes is uncertain.

Although previous studies have shown that waiting areas can be leveraged to provide health information and resources to consumers, there is limited data on how these interventions impact health literacy and connected outcomes.

About the study

In this study, the authors explored the impact of waiting spaces in health service settings on improving health literacy and related outcomes of older consumers making health appointments. The study also focused on mapping the types of interventions targeting health literacy and related outcomes in health service waiting rooms and the impact of these initiatives.

The research consisted of studies published after 2010 on the responsiveness of health literacy or health literacy in waiting spaces for adult consumers in primary care or outpatient health services.

A scoping review of the literature from ten bibliographic databases, web sources, one full-text archive, and thesis repositories was conducted to locate relevant publications.

In addition, the study had a two-stage screening procedure in which two reviewers separately examined titles, abstracts and full-text articles to determine relevant studies.

A data extraction form was used to collect data on study population, design, outcomes, outcomes and intervention from the included publications. The team used a narrative synthesis to summarize the findings of the included papers and to identify gaps in the study that warrant further investigation.


Since the current study is a scoping literature review, it does not offer original research findings. Instead, the publication summarizes the findings presented in the included papers and points out areas of the literature that still need to be explored. Of the 5,095 studies obtained from the literature search, 23 articles were included in the final analysis after screening.

The review found that waiting rooms in healthcare facilities often offer health services, information and support to consumers. However, the effectiveness of waiting areas in improving consumer health literacy and the outcomes associated with them are still unknown.

The research found many themes about the use of waiting rooms to raise health literacy and linked outcomes, including the types of health literacy interventions implemented in health service waiting areas, the outcomes measured, and the effectiveness of those interventions.

The authors identified that a range of health literacy interventions have been implemented in health service waiting spaces, such as the use of digital technologies, the involvement of community health workers or peer educators, and the use of health information materials such as pamphlets.

​​​​They found different outcomes that have been assessed in studies of health literacy interventions in waiting rooms, such as self-efficacy, changes in knowledge, health outcomes, and health behaviors.

Additionally, the team found that the effectiveness of health literacy interventions in waiting rooms varied widely among studies, with some interventions having a positive impact on health literacy and related outcomes, while others had little effect.


​​​​The study found that consumers often find health resources, information and support in healthcare waiting rooms. However, its impact on health literacy and related outcomes remains unknown.

Although the current scoping review found that health service waiting areas can influence consumer health literacy and connected outcomes, further studies are needed to identify the most effective types of interventions and how they can be tailored to meet the needs of different populations.

Future studies in this discipline should focus on developing and analyzing interventions that are specifically suited to the needs of different cohorts and health conditions and investigating how these interventions affect a variety of health literacy and corresponding outcomes.

It is worth noting that the limitations of the current review include the exclusion of articles published before 2010 and the likelihood of publication bias in the included papers.

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