Health Literacy

Engage Young Adults in Health Literacy; Teach Them to Take Flu Seriously

Editor’s note: Perhaps because flu is familiar and usually survivable, it doesn’t always get the respect it deserves. In “It’s Just the Flu: Father Recounts College Student’s Life-and-Death Battle,” WBUR’s Carey Goldberg observes that college students may be particularly vulnerable to conditions like the flu, which can quickly turn serious and even deadly.

Living away from home and managing their own health, often for the first time, young adults can benefit from training and education while they are still living at home. In addition to equipping them with information (such as the curriculum offered by Nemours Children’s Health System, described below), it’s important to help young adults begin to develop skills associated with being engaged patients. Being able to accurately observe and describe symptoms and advocate for what they need are among the skills they may need to use when they or their friends develop serious health problems away from home. The post below originally appeared in August 2019.



Children’s Health System Offers Health Literacy Curriculum for High School Students

Job 1 for adolescents is to gain knowledge and independence as they navigate an increasingly complex world. That includes gradually assuming responsibility for their own healthcare needs, especially as they prepare to leave home for college, work or other adventures as mature adults.

Photo by from Pexels

High schools have long offered health or “sex-ed” classes, which should include information and coaching to enable adolescents to partner effectively with their providers for all routine and other care needs.

Nemours Children’s Health System, based in Delaware and one of the largest children’s health systems in the United States, offers a free curriculum designed to educate high-school-age students about how the health system works and how to get the most from their healthcare visits.

The curriculum, Navigating the Health Care System , is offered through Moving Healthcare Upstream, a collaboration of Nemours and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Center for Healthier Children, Families & Communities. It has been tested in programs involving nearly 3500 students across four states, with positive results.

The curriculum is designed to be presented in four 45-minute modules:

  1. Definitions (health, health care, self-advocacy, health literacy), types of care (emergency department, urgent care, primary care provider), self-advocacy, and personal/family medical history
    2. Symptoms, diagnosis, medications and vaccinations
    3. Health insurance and adolescents’ right to privacy
    4. Practical application of the skills covered through real-life scenarios and role-plays

I became aware of this program through a message from Geri Baumblatt on the online Open Forum of the Society for Participatory Medicine. Baumblatt, who serves on the SPM board, saw the story posted to a listerv focused on health literacy.

Ilene Corina, founder and president of the Pulse Center for Patient Safety Education & Advocacy, also offers programs and resources aimed at informing teens and helping them learn to advocate for themselves and family member in healthcare encounters. Her work with Uniondale High School on Long Island, New York, is described here.


Susan Carr Susan Carr is a medical editor and writer specializing in patient safety and engagement. In addition to curating the EngagingPatients blog, she produces publications for the Betsy Lehman Center in Boston and the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine. Susan lives and works in Lunenburg, Massachusetts.

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