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Session Summary: How Health Literacy Became a National Policy Issue

November 15, 2012 08:53 AM

In this roundtable discussion, several topics were covered related to health literacy. Moderator Cindy Brach, U.S Department of Health and Human Services, facilitated the discussion with speakers Rose Marie Martinez, Institute of Medicine (IOM), and Susan Pisano, America’s Health Insurance Plans. They started with the history of health literacy, the concept of “the informed patient,” and how it unfolded in a policy perspective. There was research conducted in 1990 about the difficulties people faced with limited health literacy, the knowledge they had about choosing healthcare plans and navigating systems. The actual term “health literacy” was coined in 2000 with concepts of “understanding basic health literature” and “communicating the process.” Brach stated that since then “the concept has shifted to a dynamic that affects all of us.”

In 2000, ten-year goals were created by the U. S Department of Health and Human Services. These goals were called “Health People 2010,” in which health communications was a focus area. Since then, the issue has been highlighted on many different platforms. In 2003, the Department of Education conducted a national assessment of adult literacy and concluded that only 12 percent of the U.S. population is proficient in health literacy. Martinez also briefly introduced the IOM and their efforts in creating evidence reports to push this issue on the national agenda. With the help of workshops led by the IOM, there are now patient advisory committees. There is now more talk regarding patient-centered labels and standards.

Pisano also shared her views from the perspective of insurance companies. At her company, she leads workshops that better educate physicians and practitioners. She said “we work hard to raise awareness of the issue by providing tools and sharing best practices.”

The speakers discussed the role of activists and how lobbying made a difference in making this a national policy issue. The crediting agencies such as the Joint Commission and National Committee for Quality Assurance are also key players. Brach concluded the discussion by stating that “addressing the issue of health literacy will address all other health problems.”

Contributed by Shreya Barot, Rutgers University


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