If you’ve been a loyal reader of HealthComU, you know that health literacy is a “pet” topic of mine. At my “daytime” job, I am 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. Health literacy levels in this country, as well as around the world, remain lower than many believe. And 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.
A slightly different version of this post appeared on MMG’s Healthyist blog on Tuesday, March 24.