If you've been a loyal reader of the Healthyist, you know that
health literacy is a "pet" topic of ours. As managing editor at
MMG, my job is to ensure that the materials we create for patients
include the right information and that the information is written
in the right way. That means my team is keenly focused on plain language
principles. We understand that health literacy levels in this
country, as well as around the world, remain lower than many
believe. We also understand that if there's ever a time where it's
absolutely crucial that the reader both understand and comprehend
the information that they are reading, it's when they are reading
information about health.
There have been many health literacy programs put into place
across the past decade or so that have contributed greatly to
improvements in understanding of health information. Perhaps more
importantly, many of these efforts have led to actual improvements
in health outcomes. Much of what is happening regarding efforts to
enhance health literacy is happening behind the scenes. Health
writers and editors like me are attending trainings to better
prepare ourselves to write for audiences with varying health
literacy levels. On the government level,
officials continue to push for policies that aim to improve health
literacy. Every piece of the puzzle makes a difference, but
it's especially nice to read about in-the-field efforts going on to
improve health literacy.
I recently came across a
story in the school newspaper for the University of Texas at Tyler
that I immediately shared on social media. Last fall, the
University of Texas at Tyler teamed with the Tyler Family Circle of Care for a
health literacy initiative aimed at the parents of young children.
According to a news release from the university, the project "will
concentrate on developing or expanding parents' understanding of
fever, its symptoms, and treatment," as well as "examine the
effects of fever education on reducing physician office calls,
avoiding Emergency Room visits and saving heath care dollars."
The project, which is actually an evidence-based practice study,
will involve 100 randomly selected parents whose children (ages
newborn to 6 months) are patients at Tyler Family Circle of Care.
One-half of the participants will receive additional information at
wellness visits about how to detect and treat fever more
effectively at home. The remaining participants will have regular
wellness visits without the extra education. The hope is that the
extra education will help reduce unnecessary visits to the doctor
or to the emergency room.
The education aimed at the parents is great, but the second
aspect of the initiative is, in my opinion, even more important. As
part of the program, University of Texas at Tyler nursing students
are learning how to provide this information, and they are the ones
who lead the educational training visits. This type of training is
critical if the next generation of health care providers is going
to more effectively incorporate health literacy and plain language
principles into their care delivery. I'm excited to see this type
of program and hope that more colleges and universities out there
are recognizing the importance of this type of training.