If you work in public health, you probably have experience with the impact of limited health literacy on your everyday work. Public health communicators are responsible for getting out vital information. This information is often technical or unfamiliar to the public at large and to specific groups affected by a public health threat. We may rely on other government agencies, community groups, schools, the media – traditional and social media – and partner organizations to help us reach as broadly as possible into the community.
Limited health literacy, however, affects more than communication. It affects how we design, implement and assess public health programs, conduct outbreak investigations, respond to public health emergencies, and monitor and track health conditions in communities.
- provide screening services that require people to fill out forms they don’t understand,
- ask residents questions about community conditions that don’t make sense to them, or
- provide jargon-filled information about a public health threat that doesn’t provide a clear action step to lower the threat
we’ve missed an opportunity to improve public health.
The National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy includes goals and strategies that any public health organization can use to improve its own practices and identify local partners to help connect with the community. Adult literacy service providers, librarians, social service agencies, such as those that meet the needs of homebound elders, and visiting nurse associations are examples of non-traditional partners that reach people in everyday life.
If you work in public health, please share your experiences with us about the role limited health literacy plays in the work of your organization and how you are improving health literacy.
If you work in public health, who outside of public health would you like to partner with on limited health literacy? What do you need to make these partnerships happen?