I attended the tenth annual Healthcare Literacy in Research Conference in DC last week as a PCORI Ambassador. As is my habit, when I go to conferences I think, So what? How does this help lay people navigating health and illness?
What is literacy anyway? Ability to read and write? No, that’s not enough. Maybe it’s more. Keywords may include: understand, communicate, useful, culture. Understand whom? People understanding professionals? Professionals understanding people? Who communicates? People, communities, professionals communicate with each other. Communicate what? Useful knowledge about illness, health, or life? Or all of it? In a culture of doctors, nurses, hospitals, and clinics? OR culture of people and communities?
So, at the conference, I was looking for co-produced research (researcher and patient partners) about lay people, professionals, and communities understanding each other to increase useful knowledge about less illness and best health.
Here’s a sample of the best of what I heard and learned.
- Family literacy programs: A call (again) for health literacy in partnerships with adult basic education: In search of ‘new oil’ and ‘new lanterns.’ Maricel Santos. The adult literacy world and public health need to spend more time in each other’s worlds. The goal is not to make things simple, but to make them understood. Literacy existing in the context of life helps literacy matter. Here is an article by Santos. Nice.
- One of my favorite posters, Helping Consumers Choose and Use Health Care. Stephen Rush. Readable, large font, high contrast (unlike many posters which are small font, low contrast at a literacy conference). Very practical. Introducing Just Plain Clear Glossary (justplainclear.com)
- Digital Literacy in an Urban Cancer Population: Who are we leaving out? Alison Petok, Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, Thomas Jefferson University. My 2 cents: In spite of the literature saying that smartphone use is on the rise and that many use their phones for health, the distribution of internet access is variable across demographics and the proportion of those using a health app more than twice is low. This poster describes this variation in more detail and describes hosting workshops to increase comfort with using portals and health apps. My mom used to annoy me. I was her personal help desk. I suggested she find a 15-year old at church, pay $10/hour, for her personal help desk. She shifted from flip to smartphone and started using health apps. And stopped calling her cranky son.
- Health Literacy in Health Systems: the association between health service providers health literacy, awareness, and attitudes toward health literacy promotion, and patient communication. Diane Levin-Zamir and Shirley Mor from Israel. Health literacy in the context of the settings of medical/patient relationship (hospital and clinic cultures), not the single focus on patient health literacy.
- Health Literacy and Health Communication in the Social Networks of New Mothers. Tetine Sentell. Another presentation considering the context of health literacy. In this case, social networks. Where do mothers get health information about their pregnancy? (Mother, mother-in-law, friends, colleagues) Sad to say, their husbands are seldom part of that social network.
- Communication in the Dental Clinic: Describing the role of health literacy and nonverbal behaviors. Dafna Benadof from Chile. First, love seeing dental as a study area. Dental health is a great barometer of overall health, yet, similar to behavioral health, vision, and hearing, considered separate. Second, so much of health literacy is the written and spoken word. Gestures, facial expressions figure in as well. This study looks at the similarities and differences in nonverbals between patients and professionals.
I was disappointed that I saw few co-produced studies. The research was mostly about illness literacy of lay people in the cultures of doctors, hospitals, and clinics with notable exceptions such as those above. Slowly, we progress. A valuable conference. A good use of my time.