The Intersection of Health Equity and Health Literacy
Being unclear about the instructions for taking medications can be life threatening. Reports show as many as 88 percent of adult Americans lack the health literacy skills necessary to obtain and understand the health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions. As a result, these adults often face formidable roadblocks to successfully achieve positive health outcomes for themselves and their family members.
“Health literacy requires not only basic reading skills but the ability to understand how to navigate the health system,” says NICHQ Project Director Lindsay Rosenfeld, ScD, ScM. “I personally have had times when I haven’t had the health literacy skills I needed even as I asked questions or sought answers. Providers used words I didn’t know and had difficulty explaining related forms or processes. Addressing health literacy is a part of addressing health equity. We can create systems and interactions that support everyone.”
Health literacy is an important, but fairly new area of focus in healthcare, and the relationship between health literacy and health equity is an emerging research area. Many of NICHQ’s projects aim to achieve health equity in their target communities. NICHQ defines health equity as the state in which everyone in a population can attain their full health potential, and no one is disadvantaged because of social position or any other socially defined determinant of health, such as race, ethnicity, income, educational level and housing.
“We need to apply a health literacy lens to everything we do. Using a health literacy perspective is part of how we will achieve our goals for health equity.” says Rosenfeld. “That means asking pointed questions: Are we using plain language? Do materials provide clear instructions and next steps? Are processes and systems set-up for reliable use or navigation by patients, families and various related professionals?”
Chief Science Officer at NICHQ, Joann Petrini, PhD, MPH, says attending to health literacy is not all on the recipient. The authors of healthcare literature need to make sure information is not too complicated or too vague. For example, labels can’t just say take your pills twice a day. Rather, they should state, take one pill twice a day. Take one pill in the morning and one pill at night.
“We must make improvements across the board when it comes to the language we use,” says Petrini. “Don’t make assumptions about people’s level of understanding. Assume everyone is new to the system.”
Petrini also added that interactive methods should be used to confirm that a patient or care giver understands what is being explained to them. One such method is teach-back, a way of checking understanding by asking patients to state in their own words what they need to know or do about their health. Show-me is a related method that allows staff to confirm that patients are able to follow specific instructions, for example how to use an inhaler.
“We have had siloed care systems, and we can’t be siloed when it comes to helping people,” says Petrini. “The more we pay attention to health literacy, then the more likely we will see real progress in children achieving optimal health.”
NICHQ Employee Spotlight: Nathaniel Ray Pickett, Ph.D.
Each month, we’re shining a spotlight on a NICHQ employee, asking them to share their memories, advice, and goals. This month, NICHQ Web & Product Manager Nathanial Ray Pickett, Ph.D., shares his untraditional path to working in MCH, while highlighting his passion for equity, resisting oppression, and giving voice to the voiceless.
TRANSCRIPT | Connecting Infant and Maternal Health Outcomes – Prematurity Awareness Month
Our main story this episode highlights he links between maternal and infant health, and the impacts of preterm birth on health outcomes for mothers, birthing people, and babies. Hear from NICHQ VP of Equity and Innovation Dr. Stacy Scott, Ph.D. D, MPA, who shares some equity considerations regarding disparate rates of preterm birth, infant mortality, and maternal mortality. Dr. Zsakeba Henderson, MD, FACOG, NICHQ’s senior health advisor, also connects the impact of maternal health on infant health outcomes while shining a light on the U.S. maternal mortality crisis and current policy initiatives that can help reverse maternal mortality trends.
NICHQ Employee Spotlight: Callie Rowland
Each month, we’re shining a spotlight on a NICHQ employee, asking them to share their memories, advice, and goals. This month, NICHQ Project Manager Callie Rowland, MPH, shares her passion for working to affect change in the system, serving all mothers and children, and working for an organization that aims to help create more equitable systems.
4 Strategies for Transitioning from Pediatric to Adult Care for People Living with Sickle Cell Disease
Whether transitioning to college or a full-time job, it's a time when young adults are going to be establishing their independence from their nuclear family and taking responsibility for their own needs. For a young person with special healthcare needs such as SCD, the responsibilities are compounded by the additional need to begin transitioning from pediatric to adult care. Read more for four helpful strategies for transitioning from pediatric to adult care for people living with sickle cell disease and other special health conditions.
TRANSCRIPT | Sickle Cell Awareness Month: Transitioning to College, Equity Considerations, and Resource Sharing
Our main story this episode highlights the need for resources for people living with sickle cell disease and strategies for transitioning from pediatric to adult care. We also reflect on National Infant Mortality Awareness Month and hear from NICHQ team member about connecting their personal and professional passion for equity. Thanks for joining us!
For our main story in this episode we are joined by Summer 2023 NICHQ Communications & Digital Strategy interns Amalia Hirschhorn-Martinez and Katie McCormick. They speak with members of the NICHQ team about our upcoming webinar focused on infant safe sleep and breastfeeding messaging and NICHQ’s continued work to ensure health professionals and the communities they serve are supported with the necessary tools and resources to create safe sleeping environments and improve breastfeeding and chestfeeding rates.