A patient is told they tested positive for a disease and is relieved.

A man is referred to a practice nurse but refuses because he doesn't want to be seen by a nurse who would be "practising" on him.

A woman is told about a new treatment and nods, too embarrassed to ask questions.

In 2010 a survey conducted by the Ministry of Health showed that over 50 per cent of New Zealanders had low health literacy and as a result were failing to manage their health.

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Next Wednesday the Health Literacy NZ director will be coming to Whanganui to present a talk on bridging communication barriers between health professionals and patients.

Susan Reid co-founded the non-profit organisation in 2015 after years of researching the issues faced around miscommunication in health.

"The reason I'm coming to Whanganui is to talk to health professionals about how they can help patients better understand and manage their health."

She said one way was for health professionals to find out what their patients already know rather than assume that they know nothing or know a lot.

"The language is also important, so rather than say your results tested positive for cancer, say you have cancer.

"People working in health sometimes use language that's unfamiliar to their patients who in turn feel embarrassed to ask questions or too stressed to think about what else they need to know before leaving their appointment," Ms Reid said.

Ms Reid said Health Literacy was a concept that started in United States in the 1970s but then exploded globally and eventually was picked up in New Zealand.

"The Ministry of Health latched on to the idea in 2008 after there was much more of an understanding that people needed to be much more engaged in managing their own health."

Ms Reid will present to the Whanganui District Health Board staff during the day and a talk open to the public will be held at the Arena in Victoria House on the corner of Rutland and Drews Ave in Whanganui at 5.30pm.