Public Health Community Advisory – October is designated as Health Literacy Month, and this year’s suggested theme is “Be a Health Literacy Hero.”… “It’s about taking action and finding ways to improve how we communicate health information. Health Literacy Heroes can be individuals, teams, or organizations. What they have in common is finding health literacy problems and then acting to solve them.”  Heroes here in Nebraska include the members of Health Literacy Nebraska  (HLNE), a partnership led by Susan Bockrath, MPH, CHES. An online survey tool was developed by HLNE to determine what health communication support and training will best help health care personnel in Nebraska. The survey tool has also been incorporated into a College of Public Health (COPH) student’s service learning/capstone experience project at the Omaha VA Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System, US Department of Veterans Affairs . Two more COPH students have also incorporated validated health literacy instruments into their research projects with affiliate organizations such as Community Alliance  and the Consulate of Mexico in Omaha, NE .
According to the Mayo Clinic in Wisconsin , “a significant gap exists between the way health care issues are communicated and the ability of most people to understand them.” Sound familiar? Across Nebraska, a rural outreach project awarded to the Nebraska Association of Local Health Directors (NALHD)  to improve health literacy in local health departments is in the second year of a three-year grant funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). A website, listserv, technical assistance at 19 health departments, and 5 regional Health Literate Writer’s Workshops encourage connection and collaboration between local health departments across the state.
Nebraska is at the forefront of emerging statewide efforts across the nation and has been selected by the Institute of Medicine’s Roundtable on Health Literacy as a commissioned case study for statewide initiatives. At the national level, health literacy efforts over the last decade have blossomed! The Institute of Medicine’s Roundtable on Health Literacy created “Ten Attributes of Health Literate Health Care Organizations” ; the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) created a Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit ; and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) created a Clear Communication Index , which is a new research-based tool for planning and assessing public health communication materials.
Check out these great resources during the month of October and celebrate improved health literacy efforts!
This article was written by Denise Britigan, PhD, assistant professor in the UNMC COPH Department of Health Promotion, Social and Behavioral Health.