Posted October 22, 2012
Improving health literacy
Much of the “buzz” regarding health literacy focuses on creating health education material that acknowledges cultural diversity, addresses low literacy levels, and accommodates low English proficiency. While these tactics are important to the discussion, many in the field are overlooking the potential power of health literacy for the client. Perhaps most importantly, improved health literacy can span the knowledge gaps that hinder clients from complying with prevention and treatment recommendations.
Health literacy is more than being able to read labels and recite medications taken. From the broader perspective, health literacy is related to the cognitive and social abilities that motivate and empower individuals to seek out, understand, and use information that promotes health. This is clearly seen in improving treatment adherence for those infected with HIV and/or TB.
Both HIV and TB are complicated infections. Both require specialized care to manage. Treatment also is lengthy and difficult to explain to those without some medical knowledge or experience. Rather than instructing the client to comply with the treatment regimen prescribed, clinicians are working with clients to help them understand why adherence is important. Instead of the treatment protocol being about the clinician, it becomes a personalized treatment plan for the client - something the client can direct and participate in, rather than something handed down to them.
If the goal is to encourage behavior change, health literacy can strongly influence how the client perceives the importance of their role in improving and protecting their health and wellbeing. Clinicians and public health professionals must engage clients in ways that empower them to participate in choices about their healthcare and make sense of medical science and jargon.
Ultimately, it may take more time and resources to answer questions of “Why” and “How.” The profit on that investment, however, may fundamentally influence whether the client is successful in adhering to an oftentimes difficult treatment plan.
Posted October 15, 2012
Two new programs advance health literacy
The goal of Public Health is to educate and empower residents. To that end, the Health Surveillance, Assurance, and Investigation unit is home to two new programs: Public Health Accreditation and Population Health Policy Initiative. Each program will help increase the community’s awareness of public health and allow community members to better understand their own health needs.
In the first of those initiatives, the Health Department is currently working to meet national accreditation standards, which include a standard for quality programs and outreach to the community. It is the responsibility of the Health Department to provide accurate and reliable information to the community about how people can protect and promote their own health and well-being.
The Health Department also has a responsibility to educate the community about the meaning and importance of public health. To be valuable to the community, all information communicated must be relevant, culturally sensitive, and linguistically appropriate for people to understand.
The Population Health Policy Initiative (PHPI) allows the Health Department to use a variety of evidence-based strategies to impact policy, systemic, and environmental change at the community, organizational, individual, and policy levels to promote county-wide health changes.
PHPI will focus on areas of school health, healthy community design, worksite wellness, clinical care, and procurement. Each area provides the Health Department with opportunities to create awareness and increase knowledge of issues that affect residents of Pima County, such as choosing healthier snacks from vending machines or healthier meals at restaurants; understanding and managing a person’s own chronic disease; increasing physical activity requirements at local schools and improving meal options for students; and creating wellness programs at worksites.
This program will help residents of Pima County better understand basic health information that can assist them in making appropriate health decisions, as well as to encourage them to take action.
Posted October 9, 2012
Health Literacy and Electronic Health Records (EHR)
It used to be that a long time family doctor would provide trusted advice based on a shared history with a patient. Medical care in the United States, however, has shifted to a system of unfamiliar physicians or nurse practitioners, such as at the local pharmacy clinic, with caseloads so large that even if they do see a patient routinely they are unlikely to remember them. Care instructions are given in a rush, perhaps accompanied by a printed handout, as the clinician rushes off to the next client. And even though patients are being counted on to provide accurate medical histories and help direct their own care, estimates indicate only 1 in 10 can do so effectively.
"Health literacy" is how well people are able to obtain, process, and understand health information and then use that information to make informed decisions about their health. Obtaining health information is more than simply being told the name of an illness or the current drug treatment recommended for that illness. It is having meaningful access to understandable and comprehensive information that can be used to improve their health.
An electronic health record (EHR) is a computerized system for recording patient health information. This information includes current or past illness or injury, medications, and allergies – all of which could be printed on a simple summary sheet that patients can request from their provider or access on their own from a computer. An EHR that provides patients with an understandable medical record helps meet the first step on the path to health literacy: obtaining health information.
An EHR printout of their medical history or care instructions allows patients to review their conditions or medications, follow care instructions without relying on memory alone, and share an accurate medical history with new providers. EHR can also reduce the paperwork load on doctors, leaving more time for interaction and education to help patients understand their needs. The summary also provides the basic information people can use to learn more about conditions that affect them, improving their ability to make informed decisions that impact their health.
The Pima County Health Department is proud to be moving towards the implementation of an EHR that will benefit our residents and clients for years to come.
Posted October 1, 2012
Health Literacy Overview
The concept of literacy extends far beyond just being able to read. While general literacy – the skills of reading, writing, basic math, speech, and comprehension – are critical, other forms of literacy are emerging that are equally important to becoming a more self-sufficient society.
Health literacy is defined as “the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.” Research shows that people of all ages, races, incomes, and education levels are affected by limited health literacy. This is often because most health information is unfamiliar, complicated, or overwhelming.
People who have high levels of health literacy are able to:
Navigate a complex healthcare system
Track and share personal health information with providers
Manage chronic disease and provide self-care
Understand mathematical concepts such as measurement, risk, and probability
Unfortunately, the latest data shows that nearly 9 out of 10 adults have trouble understanding most health information that is available. This is often complicated by the fact that there is so much conflicting information, leaving people unsure of which sources to trust.
One example of this is childhood vaccinations. In the last decade, the rates of vaccinations for children has gone down, with many attributing this to an unproven link to autism. Despite the fact that decades of research and data show that vaccinations do save lives and money, this disturbing new trend is being fueled by conflicting reports, media coverage, and a lack of education for parents.
While we know that virtually every demographic is affected by limited health literacy, data shows that less educated, older and Hispanic/Latino adults are disproportionately impacted. Some research indicates that literacy skills are a stronger predictor of an individual’s health status than age, income, employment status, education level, or racial/ethnic group. Low health literacy is a significant cost burden on healthcare, with some estimates indicating the annual health care costs for individuals with low literacy skills are four times higher than those with higher literacy skills. It should be the goal of every health organization to provide information that is easy to understand and obtain.
When complex topics are presented, providers and health advocates need to break that information into understandable segments. Many health organizations are making a concerted effort to improve their community’s health literacy, and you can learn more about the National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy at:
Along the lines of presenting health information in a more understandable way, check out this great infographic summarizing the importance of health literacy: