This week on the LINCS health literacy listserv (free to join), Julie McKinney, the list moderator, and Michael Villaire, the Institute for Healthcare Advancement, are hosting an online storytelling event. They invited organizations using goals and strategies from the National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy to share stories of how the plan helped them in their work. You can read the stories on the listserv web page.
I asked Michele Erikson and Dr. Paul Smith of Wisconsin Literacyif I could share their story (I have edited it for length and clarity. You can read the original post on the listserv web page.) Michele and Paul’s story conveys the power of individual and group action coupled with an agenda for change. See if you can identify how the Action Plan goals and strategies have influenced their work.
A Health Literacy Story from Wisconsin
Once upon a time there was a doctor in Madison, Wisconsin who didn’t understand why his patients weren’t following his instructions. “Hmm….” he wondered, “could something else be going on here, or am I just not communicating well?”
He thought low reading skills might be a factor. After finding literacy data, he was shocked!
“How could a problem THIS BIG happen and I didn’t even know about it?!!” he exclaimed.
He did an Internet search on “Literacy in Wisconsin” and found a small, statewide literacy organization. He asked to join the board of directors. Within a year he and the director organized the first Wisconsin Health Literacy Summit, uniting about 40 literacy and health care providers to discuss how they could work together to make health information understandable for everybody.
The doctor developed a moving PowerPoint presentation, including patient stories and suggestions to address health literacy. He shared it with every health and education organization that would allow him. Like Johnny Appleseed, he planted health literacy seeds everywhere he went. It wasn’t long before a buzz began and many requests came in for him to present all over the state and beyond.
There was so much demand, the literacy organization director and the doctor held a second Health Literacy Summit and created a statewide grassroots effort involving volunteers in health care and literacy from all four corners of the state. Soon, the state literacy organization and its committees were sharing health literacy practices in their health care organizations and training literacy tutors in health literacy practices and health curricula resources for adult learners.
They developed partnerships and shared information with initiatives in other states. The literacy organization developed a new website dedicated to sharing health literacy information and hired its first health literacy coordinator to plan and evaluate health literacy efforts.
Long story short, a third and fourth Wisconsin Health Literacy Summit allowed evidence-based health literacy practices and interventions to be shared with everyone. New partnerships were formed, and actionable interventions and tools were shared. Other states began to develop their own health literacy plans thanks to the CDC Action Plan workbook.
Thank you Michele and Paul for this story. Even though most stories eventually have an end, the health literacy improvement story continues. What is your story with the National Action Plan?