(This blog was co-authored by Linda Harris, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Department of Health and Human Services.)
“How can we improve health literacy?” is the question that over 160 individuals and organizations came together to discuss on Oct. 7, 2010 during a live Twitter chat hosted by me (Cynthia Baur , CDC’s Senior Health Literacy Advisor) and the Department of Health and Human Services’ healthfinder.gov team. In all, potentially more than 560,000 people were reached with the message of health literacy—in one hour!
Nikki (@eagledawg), a medical librarian at the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, described the experience as “one of the most unexpected and amazing community flashmob experiences I’ve been a part of on Twitter.” All of us at healthfinder.gov and CDC agree—the response is a sign that now is the time to mobilize around the issue of health literacy.
As a result of recent and continued developments in health literacy research and policy, people know that limited health literacy is a problem. So the question we want to ask you is: Now what? How can we mobilize and find actionable ways to improve health literacy?
This sentiment was echoed throughout the #healthlit Twitter chat as people shared their questions, resources, and passion. The discussion touched upon the concept of empowering e-patients, supporting the doctor-patient relationship, and better targeting populations most in need of information for health literacy improvement. Participants shared challenges, such as building trust and credibility and tackling the complexity of evaluation, as well as potential solutions—such as user-centered design and multi-channel approaches.
Participants were encouraged to review and adopt strategies from the National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy, which is a blueprint for coordinated health literacy efforts and contains seven goals with high level strategies that will improve health literacy. As an example of Goal 1 in the action plan, Develop and Disseminate Health and Safety Information that is Accurate, Accessible, and Actionable, the healthfinder.gov team shared strategies to improve health literacy online as more Americans are going online for health information. The Health Literacy Online guide was identified as a valuable resource to help participants write clear, actionable health content and design intuitive, user-friendly Web sites.
While the Twitter Chat revealed the multitude of people involved in health literacy efforts and identified several resources, our work is not done. It’s only beginning. And so we also want to know: What are you doing to improve health literacy?
A big “thank you” goes out to the online panel that joined me during the #health Twitter chat, including: About.com’s Joanne Fritz, Patricia Anderson, Health Literacy Month Founder Helen Osbourne, Highlight HEALTH’s Walter Jessen, O’Reilly Radar’s Alex Howard, Craig Lefebvre, Deborah Bosley from the Center for Plain Language, LaDonna Coy and Dana M. Lewis, founder of the weekly #hcsm Twitter chat. To review tweets shared before, during and after the #healthlit Twitter chat, review the online archive.
Additional Health Literacy Resources
(From the Gateway to Health Communication and Social Marketing Practice)
Health Literacy Overview – General overview of health literacy.
Health Literacy [PDF - 2.54MB] – A report providing a summary about health literacy.
Simply Put [PDF - 1.87MB] – This guide helps you transform complicated scientific and technical information into more understandable communication materials. It provides practical ways to organize information, use language and visuals, and help you create fact sheets, FAQ’s, brochures, booklets, pamphlets, and other materials, including web content.