Challenges in improving health literacy in the US
By JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM
Health information can be highly technical and complex, occasionally perplexing even to the most highly educated. Understanding this information — broadly defined as health literacy — is key to a person taking a proactive role in their health and well-being. What happens, though, if people do not understand what the doctor tells them or make sense of their medication instructions?
Health literacy was initially defined in 2000 as “the capacity of individuals to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.” This definition has since undergone several iterations as health literacy has come to be understood as multi-dimensional, involving more than just the individual patient, according to the researchers Scott C. Ratzan and Ruth M. Parker in the introduction to “Health Literacy: Improving Health, Health Systems, and Health Policy Around the World.”
Health literacy encompasses a set of skills, including accessing health care, communicating with health care providers and calculating drug dosages. An individual’s health literacy level depends on many factors, such as ethnicity, education and income. Disproportionately, individuals who are minorities, have limited education or live in poverty have poor health literacy, according to the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy. This survey — the first nationwide survey to assess health literacy — reported that only 12 percent of adult Americans had a high level of health literacy.
Poor health literacy has wide-ranging effects. Individuals with low health literacy visit the emergency room more frequently for routine medical care, engage less with the health care system and report a worse overall health status. Health care efficiency suffers because of poor health literacy. Also poor health literacy costs the U.S. economy hundreds of billions of dollars annually, as stated in the report “Low Health Literacy: Implications for National Health Policy.”
Despite the prevalence of poor health literacy and its consequences, many health care providers are unaware that their patients struggle with comprehending health information. This communication divide only further compounds low health literacy in that providers continue talking “above” their patients, and patients are reluctant to acknowledge their lack of understanding.
Improving health literacy can help eliminate health inequality, improve health outcomes and improve health care efficiency, according to the 2016 paper “Considerations for a New Definition of Health Literacy.” Health care providers have many strategies for communicating health information more clearly to their patients.
For example, health care providers can use plain language, which involves using the active voice, substituting complex terms or phrases for simpler ones and presenting information in small chunks, as described in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ “Quick Guide to Health Literacy.”
The teach-back method helps health care providers ensure that patients understand health information, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. To use this method, a health care provider explains a particular concept to a patient, asks the patient what they understand about the concept, clarifies any misunderstandings and repeats this process until the patient demonstrates mastery of the concept.
Health literacy is multi-faceted and complex. Improving health literacy has benefits for the individual and health care system as a whole. Through a concerted effort, health care providers can tailor health information to make it clear and understandable to patients.
JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM, is a freelance medical writer.
AABJ Online Fundraiser: 43 Years Campaign
AABJ’s $43 for 43 fundraising campaign is still ongoing. In its 43rd year, we are asking members to donate $43 to go towards programming, scholarships, and events throughout the year. Be sure to invite your friends, coworkers and anyone you know who supports our members in print, communications, public relations, radio, broadcast, digital and the many trailblazers in the literary world. Be sure to share our campaign on your social media by using the hashtag #AABJ43.
You can donate here.
Atlanta vlogger chosen for YouTube mentorship progam
By Joi Light
It’s no doubt that the world is changing due to significant technological advancements — so naturally the world of journalism has to follow suit. Some of the world’s largest publications are now in competition with someone’s favorite mom blogger or popular social media influencer turned red carpet correspondent. To a “classically trained” journalist, this might sound like a change for the worse, but for someone who has the skills and the entrepreneurial spirit, it’s go time!
That’s exactly what Atlanta resident, Will Edmond is capitalizing on — the new way of making your own way. After pitching a show idea to the Travel Channel that didn’t end up taking off, Will decided to make his own way as a YouTube extraordinaire.
Fast forward to just two years after his first video, Will was hand-picked by the good folks at Youtube in September for their NextUP Black Creators Class of 2019. This week-long free mentorship program in Los Angeles, California, consisted of classes on lighting, equipment and editing.
“What I learned most was that it’s not about the best camera, it’s all about the best lighting,” Edmond said. “The lighting techniques are what inspires me to set up my own studio.”
Besides the courses provided by YouTube, that some invest thousands of dollars into, he was able to connect and network with other like-minded black creators. After graduating from the program, creators in the class were gifted with new equipment to elevate their videos to a new level and an assigned personal mentor from the YouTube staff.
“YouTube is changing the world of journalism,”Edmond said. “It’s truly putting storytelling back into the hands of people and telling stories their own way.”
Joi Light is a full-time digital brand journalist and part-time freelance writer and blogger.
Be sure to buy the AABJ documentary “Black and Reporting”
Get your Emmy Award-Nominated copy of AABJ’s Documentary, “Black & Reporting: The Struggle Behind the Lens.”
Proceeds go to AABJ’s Xernona Clayton Scholarship Fund .
Anyone who wants to watch the entire documentary can buy it for $9.95 here.
Member Spotlight: MaKisha Funderburke
Current position in AABJ?
How long have you been a member of AABJ?
Since May 2017
Where did you attend college?
How long have you lived in Atlanta?
19 years (since year 2000)
Marketing Communications Professional (Kennesaw State University) and Adjunct Instructor in Mass Media (Clark Atlanta University)
What do you like most about being a member of AABJ?
I really enjoy networking with black media professionals and the monthly workshops.
What initially got you interested in the media/communications field?
I have always been a creative and a suit, meaning I bridge the worlds of the arts and business. I enjoy shaping and refining the vision, mission, messages and visuals of a brand.
What are your favorite publications/outlets to get your news?
Is there anyone in media you look up to? Why?
I am a fan of Tyra Banks. I have followed her story of desiring to major in mass communications when she was a teen, to her modeling career, to her entrepreneurial accomplishments in television and film.
What’s an interesting fact about you people wouldn’t have otherwise known?
I absolutely love to sing and wouldn’t mind experiencing Broadway.
This edition of The Byline was edited by Amir Vera.