As the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on National Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Objectives for 2030 prepares its new statement for Healthy People 2030, NLM has been asked to review and comment on the definition of health literacy. This request has provided a good opportunity for me to consider how NLM facilitates health literacy — but more about that in a minute.
As a concept, health literacy has generated much attention and debate over the past 15 years. In 2004, the Institute of Medicine (now the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine) released Health Literacy: A Prescription to End Confusion. This report laid the groundwork for the idea that health literacy is more than the capacity of an individual to obtain, process, and understand the basic health information needed to make appropriate health decisions. Health literacy also involves system-level factors such as education, health services, and social and cultural influences.
This idea — of organizational health literacy — encompasses the ways in which services, organizations, and systems make health information and resources available and accessible to people, according to their individual health literacy strengths and limitations.
The white paper Ten Attributes of Health Literate Health Care Organizations proposes that health literate organizations share the following characteristics:
- Has leadership that makes health literacy integral to its mission, structure, and operations
- Integrates health literacy into planning, evaluation measures, patient safety, and quality improvement
- Prepares the workforce to be health literate and monitors progress
- Includes populations served in the design, implementation, and evaluation of health information and services
- Meets the needs of populations with a range of health literacy skills while avoiding stigmatization
- Uses health literacy strategies in interpersonal communications and confirms understanding at all points of contact
- Provides easy access to health information and services and navigation assistance
- Designs and distributes print, audiovisual, and social media content that is easy to understand and act on
- Addresses health literacy in high-risk situations, including care transitions and communications about medicines
- Communicates clearly what health plans cover and what individuals will have to pay for services
NLM contributes widely to individual health literacy. We provide information in many forms, from scientific articles in PubMed Central to health and wellness information for patients and their families and friends through MedlinePlus.
But what do we do in support of organizational health literacy?
When it comes to the accessibility of health information and services, we leverage technology to provide a range of machine-accessible pathways to our offerings. For example, our ClinicialTrials.gov application programming interface allows organizations to extract the clinical trials located in an organization’s specific region and display them on the organization’s own portal.
NLM’s MedlinePlus Connect allows health organizations and health information technology providers to link patient portals and electronic health record systems to MedlinePlus, supporting the in-the-moment delivery of personalized health information. We also foster the goals of organizational health literacy through our National Information Center on Health Services Research and Health Care Technology, which provides information on health services research and quality improvement as well as resources for public health professionals.
Please think about how NLM can better support health literacy — either individual or organizational — and share your ideas with me. It’s a key to the future of health!