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Welcome to CDC’s Health Literacy Blog

Posted on by Cynthia Baur


Welcome to the first post on CDC’s new health literacy blog. The purpose of the blog is to stimulate ideas for new work in public health and health literacy, build relationships and community, and discuss our successes and challenges in real time.   

Improving health literacy depends on the support and actions of many organizations working at all levels of society. CDC’s Office of the Associate Director for Communication (OADC) recognizes CDC can play a major role in raising awareness, disseminating information and leading by example in health literacy practice.

In that spirit, OADC is initiating a CDC Health Literacy Council that I will lead. The Council is an agency-wide group with representation from the Offices in CDC’s Office of the Director (Communication, Policy, Program and Minority Health and Health Disparities) and the seven National Centers that make up CDC. The Council’s purpose is to advise CDC programs and partners on steps they can take to improve health literacy.

To get the Council off to a strong start, I have drafted a CDC health literacy action plan for the Council to review and refine. The draft action plan uses the goals and strategies of the National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy, is tailored to CDC’s mission, and identifies resources and areas of responsibility. I call on other organizations to join me in using the National Action Plan to write their own strategic plans for health literacy.

Also, check out the Strategic Plan for Risk Communication from FDA, one of our partners in improving health literacy. Let’s make every step we take to improve health literacy a strategic one!

I will monitor the blog and the site’s email box, provide information when requested and share your ideas as appropriate.

Here are two questions to get the conversation started on the blog.

1)      What part does public health play in your current health literacy activities?

2)      Thinking about your current or future health literacy activities, who in public health would you like to collaborate with?    

Posted on by Cynthia Baur

14 comments on “Welcome to CDC’s Health Literacy Blog”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    Is anyone working on health literacy in the teen population? I am manager of a Health Literacy Grant at a local high school, grades 9-12, designed to impact chronic disease: CV/pulmonary and cancer, specifically. I would be open to hearing from others who are working in health literacy with adolescents.

    I agree that health related websites should be actively involved in the health literacy movement. Understanding how different individuals are likely to respond will make more effective education, achieve better outcomes and be a better use of resources.

    I am studying the role of the Faith Community Nurse in enhancing health literacy. Have any of you had an experience with this?
    At my church, the parish nurse gives classes, goes to the doctor with the patient to help interpret the medical jargon and does individual health counseling.
    I am most intrested in finding out about this.

    Interesting comments and helpful. I want to help educate the people of Mississippi about healthy living. Many of our people, especially the elderly, do not read well and do not understand all the doctors tell them. Also, we have trouble in the small towns enticing doctors to set up practice because so many of the people are poor. I like Mary’s comment about teaching them how to go to the Internet to locate help. I hope to get lots of good ideas and information from all of you.

    I agree that Public Health plays an important role in health literacy. As an undergraduate Public Health student I understanding health literacy is essential to health outcomes. Research shows that being able to successfully access health care and find needed health information is directly correlated with maintaining health. I believe that health literacy isn’t just about an individual’s ability to obtain and information but also healthcare provider’s ability to provide information in a way that is understandable to his or her patience. It is common for patience to receive verbal and written information that in no way helps them receive the health care they need because they do not understand it. Because of this I believe that the health communication on both in of the spectrum (patience receiving information, and healthcare providers disturbing information) could use some improvement and this blog is a step in the right direction.

    A perspective from the UK….

    The work of professionals in the field of health information has understandably – and rightly – focussed on precision, accuracy, safety and protection against possible legal liabilities.

    There are still clearly substantial barriers to information equality with health literacy and digital exclusion currently seen as the principal challenges.

    Simplifying information, using plain English (or alternatives if appropriate), addressing any cultural issues and improving access through digital inclusion, undoubtedly has a significant impact. And it will continue to be a priority to provide information in as wide a range of forms as possible to ensure that people are treated equally and fairly.

    However, we also know that people who have full access to information and are without basic language or literacy problems still do not respond appropriately, i.e. they don’t seem to act in line with our perception of their own best interests to the information that is presented.

    Look at some common challenges that we face with health and related services that have been subject of vast amounts of information dissemination:

    Exhortations to encourage us to give up smoking, eat more healthily and take up more exercise.

    Raising awareness of the symptoms of testicular, lung and breast cancer and subsequent prompt self-referral.

    Encouraging people to take their medicines at the right dosage and at the right time
    Increasing the number of blood donors.

    Providing information on pharmacy opening times, availability and services offered.

    Encouraging elderly people to keep warm in winter and hydrated in the summer.

    Reducing inappropriate use of Emergency Room services.

    It’s simply not credible to suggest that our failure to bring about ‘behaviour change’ in these and similar areas is because people either have an information deficit or don’t understand what they are being told or asked to do. This is increasingly understood to be the case with ‘lifestyle’ issues but it is equally relevant with regards to those issues where traditionally the simple passage of information is seen to be sufficient, for example, when providing information regarding self-care following an inpatient stay in hospital.

    If people do not respond as we would wish to the information we give them, then a central plank of public policy is flawed and an initiative that seeks to use public money wisely in fact potentially wastes it.

    In our view we cannot achieve a successful behavioural outcome without addressing two questions for the individual you are targeting.. They are:

    Ability: “Do I have the ability to continue, start, adapt or stop this behaviour”? e.g. skills, tools, finance, time, physical and mental effort, knowledge and physical access

    Motivation: “What’s in it for me, or for people like me, to start, adapt or stop this behaviour?”

    Health information strategies tend to aim to focus on the first question-Ability.

    This approach relates to tackling and supporting the ability of people to utilise the service or behave in the desired way by making the information as accessible as possible. In other words much of the effort has gone into building mechanisms that enable people to access information without understanding who will use the information and how its use varies between individuals. Understanding how different individuals are likely to respond will make communications more effective, achieve better outcomes and be a better use of resources.

    It’s the distinction between a necessary and a sufficient condition for empowering people to take more responsibility for their own health and health care.

    The launch of this site couldn’t have come at a better time! I’m a Registered Nurse and student nurse practitioner in Maryland. I recently completed an evidence-based research project on the associations between health literacy and glycemic control in adult diabetic populations and the evidence is astounding. One thing I hope the site will emphasize is that health literacy is much more than being able to read. It is a constellation of skills, including numeracy, which is the ability to comprehend mathematical concepts and perform numerical tasks — counting, estimating, measuring, etc. — that are critical to the success of disease management. As a nurse of 18 years, primarily in large urban areas, I can definitively say that if the estimates are true — that over 47% of U.S. adults have difficulty locating, matching, and integrating information in written texts with accuracy and consistency — then we’d better get serious about health literacy if we truly want to control costs and improve health outcomes. Anything less is just spinning wheels.

    As part of an initiative to improve the health literacy of the community in which I work I have had the opportunity to assist in organizing learning sessions for patients in our Primary Care Practice. We are offering classes for our patients to them how to search the internet using the I Pad touch to look up health information. We show them credible sources such as Medline. Many of the patients we are working with do not have computer access. They may have children that are using the internet service through their cell phones but they can not afford to have computers in their homes. It is a great experience to teach patients how to use the internet for health resources.
    We have been holding the sessions for 2 hours monthly and more people are attending the sessions as the word spreads.

    I would like to link to a comment by Cheryl Thurman printed on April 15, 2011. I agree with the importance of educating the public about the effects of addiction and the fact that it is a brain disease. By increasing Public Health Literacy we can teach the public more about the effects and challenges of addiction as a disease. The long term impact on those that are suffering from the addictive diseases are very devastating. Addiction as a disease can be more difficult to treat than cancer and other diseases which have more treatment options.

    I agree that libraries — public, academic and special — should be actively involved in the health literacy movement. However, libraries, like retail establishments, are not immune to issues of territoriality and on occasion, good programs instituted by one system are deemed “proprietary” and not released to other systems. My own graduate research indicated a surprising lack of knowledge and zero cooperation between geographically-close systems about what each was doing in terms of health literacy initiatives. Perhaps a “fix” in this matter would be having the state library as an overarching umbrella organization driving the programs and encouraging state-wide implementation.

    Health literacy is the bridge between our service delivery and our public’s ability to take responsibility for their health.

    I believe that collaboration with libraries is crucial to achieving health literacy. We need a process, priorities, a list of the various categories of health literacy, and then all health-related entities need to work on their own segment. It starts with the signs in our entryways. How does a person get to the right office to even ask a question? What different ways to we need to communicate with different people: words, pictures, colors, arrows, lines. Then the literacy needs just continue to get more complex. It’s not easy to make something simple.

    The National Network of Libraries of Medicine, New England Region is forming a Health Literacy Community of Interest and a Healthy Communities Community of Interest for our next 5 year contract as regional medical library in New England for the National Library of Medicine. Our Communities of Interest (COI) provide medical librarians, public librarians, health professionals and community based organizations the opportunity to learn more about health literacy and community outreach and take action to promote public health. We will use the National Action Plan for Health Literacy and the Universal Precautions Toolkit as our guide. We are very excited to increase the capacity of libraries in the New England Region to work together to improve the health of the communities in our 6 states. If you are from New England and interested in joining our learning communities for health literacy and healthy communities, please contact Michelle Eberle.

    Posted by:
    Michelle Eberle, NN/LM NER Consumer Health Information Coordinator; Convener for COIs
    Deborah Clark, Librarian, Stephens Memorial Hospital, Maine; Healthy Communities COI Leader
    Caroline Marshall, Librarian, Danbury Hospital, Connecticut; Health Literacy COI

    Pulic health plays an enormous part in my health literacy activities. I have a degree in the health care field and monitor professionals in recovery from chemical dependency.
    The more literature/information I can share with people in remission from this devistating, destuctive, chronic illness the more ‘tools’ they have for their ‘toolbox’ to lead healthy, productive lives and deter the effects of addiction in their own lives, the lives of their families, and future generations.
    I would like to see America lead the way in educating the public about the brain disease of addiction and stop judging it’s victim’s as less than, or unworthy of respect and opportunity.
    Especially, the health care community itself, has been sadly condeming of “drug seekers” when compassion and acceptance is the key to encouraging someone to get the help they need.
    I also believe a major move toward longterm monitoring of recovering people, especially in the professional arena will be an adjunct to sucess in remission and, consequently, a healthier view of this disease that it is treatable!

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