Research project

Professional health literacy of selected health professions: A pilot study (HLS-PROF-GER)


Empirical studies show that promoting the population’s health literacy is an important societal task in Germany. In this context, the health professions have an important role to play – in particular physicians and nursing staff. They still are the first point of contact for questions about health and illness and constitute an important source of health information.

In order to promote health literacy, health professionals must be able to prepare, explain and communicate health-related knowledge and information in such a way that it can be understood, appraised, and applied by patients. This is important, in order to – amongst other things – jointly reach informed decisions on questions of disease management, care, the maintenance of health and health promotion. However, this is also about patients’ capability to deal with health information confidently. In addition to these educational and communicative skills, health professionals need sufficient competence in their own information and knowledge management. To what extent health professionals have these skills – or in other words, to what extent they possess professional health literacy – is a widely open question.

Objective and procedure

The project "Professional Health Literacy of Selected Health Professions (PROF-HL-DE)" started in January 2022 and is being carried out at the Hertie School and Bielefeld University in cooperation with the Stiftung Gesundheitswissen. A total of more than 900 general practitioners and nurses in Germany were surveyed with an online questionnaire. The aim of this pilot study was to examine how challenging it is for health professionals to a) deal with information and knowledge when conducting professional everyday tasks promoting health literacy, b) to what extent they are able to provide and explain health information, and c) to communicate in a patient-centred manner.

For this purpose, a new concept was developed, which forms the basis for a new survey instrument on professional health literacy. This has been done in cooperation with colleagues from Careum Foundation (Switzerland) and Gesundheit Österreich GmbH (GÖG) (Austria). The questionnaire was employed for the first time in this pilot survey of selected health professions in these three countries. The data collected provide information on various dimensions of professional health literacy and allow us to identify starting points for the development of interventions to promote health literacy in health professionals.


You can download the report with the results of the study here (in German only).

If you are interested in the results of the Austrian and Swiss study, which was conducted at the same time, you can find it on the partnering organisations' pages ­– on the Austrian Platform Health Literacy website and that of  Careum, Zurich, Switzerland.

Further Publications:

Working Group on Professional Health Literacy (Schaeffer, D./De Gani, S./Griebler, R./Griese, L./Haarmann, A. Jacks, R.) (2022): Health literacy in health professionals – conceptualising and piloting a new measuring instrument, European Journal of Public Health, Volume 32, Issue Supplement 3, October 2022, ckac129 .661,

Presentations and Conferences

Results of the project were presented for the public at the Health Literacy Forum 2023 (20 June 2023 in Berlin) for the first time.

Members of the project team have also presented the results at various other conferences. These include the joint conference of the German Society for Social Medicine and Prevention (DGSMP), the German Network Health Literacy (DNGK) and the National Action Plan for Health Literacy (NAP) (30 August - 1 September 2023 in Berlin), the International Conference on Health Promoting Hospitals and Health Services (20-22 September 2023 in Vienna) and the German Congress for Health Services Research (4-6 October 2023 in Berlin).

The German Association for Prevention and Health Promotion (bvpg) has written an article summarising the results of the study, which can be found here: "Erste Studie zur professionellen Gesundheitskompetenz".


January 2022 – November 2023

Coordination partners in Germany


Hertie School Berlin
Friedrichstraße 180
10117 Berlin
Tel.: +49 (0) 30 259 219 180
E-Mail: haarmann[at]hertie-school[dot]org

Bielefeld University
Universitätsstraße 25
33615 Bielefeld
Tel.: +49 (0) 30 259 219 393
E-Mail: lennert.griese[at]uni-bielefeld[dot]de

Stiftung Gesundheitswissen
Friedrichstraße 134
10117 Berlin
Tel.: +49 (0) 30 41 95 492 -0 Fax: +49 (0) 30 41 95 492 -99