I looked forward to seeing the published proceedings of a one-day roundtable on health literacy held by the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies in November 2017. I find the topic of health literacy compelling. As a writer, I know how challenging it is to communicate clearly about anything, never mind something as difficult and important as health care. I also knew that Christopher Trudeau, a frequent contributor to this blog, had been tapped as an expert speaker for the roundtable.
The proceedings are now available, for sale as a paperback or eBook or for free download as a PDF, from the National Academies Press.My anticipation was well founded; the report is both accessible and a deep look at a surprisingly complex topic.
I say “surprisingly” because I thought I knew a fair bit about health literacy. It’s hardly a new concept for me, but the report and related materials on the NAP website introduced me to dimensions of health literacy I had overlooked.
Making the business case
The roundtable was focused on building the business case for health literacy and therefore included experts from disciplines – such as finance, law, industry and training – relevant to corporate officers in hospitals and health systems. Patients who had experienced harm related to poor communication were also included as experts. Their stories are presented in the first chapter following the proceedings’ introduction and establish both the grave consequences and wide effect of poor communication on health and daily life.
The workshop and proceedings trace a direct line from value-based purchasing and consumer-directed health-care spending to literacy. If we expect patients and their families to make smart decisions, we must ensure they understand their options and the implications of their choices. The report also connects the dots between poor communication and medical error.
Other resources are available
Intrigued by the complexity of topics discussed in the proceedings, I went looking for earlier activities of the Roundtable on Health Literacyand found an extensive library of reportsand videos. Sessions from the November 2017 roundtable are available in video,which gives even more texture to the topic through presentations, panel discussions, and audience questions. For example, Session 5, with Trudeau as a panelist, is a moderated discussion of the question: Where do we go from here?
A lens, not a topic
I’ve grown tired of the concept of seeing something “through the [fill in the blank] lens,” but find it useful to describe the awareness I gained reading this report. Before, I thought of health literacy as recognition and response to a specific problem related to language, most often patients who through lack of education or cultural difference are not able to understand the high-level lingo of health care. I now see that virtually all of health care, including the business side, can be seen through the lens of health literacy.
Whether patients and family members are able to access and understand the information they need to participate in their own care and the system in general (including, for example, choosing a hospital or purchasing health insurance), has implications for all stakeholders. The U.S. health care system is somewhat fitfully moving toward paying for value, which means transferring power to the citizens/consumers/patients who use the system. An informed citizenry is important to health care the same way it’s important to democracy.
Other resources on this topic: