October is Health Literacy Month!
Health Literacy 101
From our earliest educational opportunities, reading and the ability to read or be literate is a skill that is encouraged and affirmed.
Another form of literacy is health literacy which refers to the ability to complete basic tasks related to having and maintaining an individual’s health. In fact, the American Medical Association has stated, "poor health literacy is a stronger predictor of a person's health than age, income, employment status, education level, and race."
If we want to have healthy communities made of healthy individuals, we need to have high health literacy. That is why Health Literacy Month is something we want to highlight for you along with all the tools you as leaders can use in your community increase health literacy in your communities.
Defining Health Literacy
The Affordable Care Act provides a helpful definition of 'health literacy': “the degree to which an individual has the capacity to obtain, communicate, process, and understand basic health information and services in order to make appropriate health decisions.” The CDC says anyone who needs health information and services also needs health literacy skills to:
- Find information and services
- Communicate their needs and preferences and respond to information and services
- Process the meaning and usefulness of the information and services
- Understand the choices, consequences and context of the information and services
- Decide which information and services match their needs and preferences so they can act
Studies on health literacy indicate that people with low literacy rates are less likely to understand medical labels and instructions, get a flu shot, use preventive care, and more likely to be hospitalized and take medications incorrectly compared with adults with higher literacy.
Addressing Culture and Health
Culture affects how people communicate, understand and respond to health information. For people from different cultural backgrounds, health literacy is affected by belief systems, communication styles, and understanding and response to health information. Here are some resources to help understand how healthliteracy and culture relate to each other and can be considered together to further increase health literacy.
- Promoting Healthy Choices and Community Changes is an e-learning program from the Office of Minority Health that develops culturally and linguistically competent messengers, advocates and educators to promote health and wellness among their peers and within their communities. It is available in Spanish and English and is a key component of the HHS Promotores de Salud Initiative, launched in 2011 as part of the HHS Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities.
- Resources for Communities and Families from the National Center for Cultural Competence note that cultural and linguistic competence requires shared power, reciprocal transfer of knowledge and skills, and respectful, trusting relationships with consumers, families, and communities
- Multi-Cultural Resources for Health Information are tools available through the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health.
- The Basics/Cultural Competency resources recommended by the Office of Adolescent Health related to working with adolescents.
- Resources Related to Cultural Competency recommended by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) for working with individuals who have or are struggling with substance abuse or mental health challenges.
Improving Health Literacy
There are a variety of federal resources available that will help communities encourage and build health literacy for individuals and families in our communities.
- National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy provides a blueprint on how organizations and individuals can work to sustainable improve health literacy in their community.
- CDC Health Literacy: Accurate, Assessible and Actionable Health Information for All provides information and tools to improve health literacy and public health. These resources are for all organizations that interact and communicate with people about health.
- A Guide for Older People: Talking with Your Doctor and Talking with Your Doctor Presentation Toolkit from the National Institutes on Aging at the National Institutes of Health will help you guide and support older members of your community get ready for a doctor’s visit, effectively talk with a clinician about health concerns, make collaborative decision about treatment and remember what was discussed during the appointment.
- Toolkit for Making Written Material Clear and Effective from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare (CMS) is an 11-part toolkit that provides detailed and a comprehensive set of tools to help make written materials in printed formats easier for people to read, understand and use.
- Health Literacy, Health Communication and e-Health from the CDC provides an overview of health literacy, tools, reports/research and related resources.
- Simply Put, A Guide for Creating Easy-to-Understand Materials teaches how to create easy-to-read materials using effective communication and design.
- Health Insurance Literacy Training Modules from The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare offer a comprehensive overview of health insurance literacy and how best to explain each aspect of a health insurance plan to help enroll members in your community when Open Enrollment begins November 1, 2015.