Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Health LIteracy

Today, I was at a meeting at the National Institute for Nursing Research (NINR).  It was a meeting of individuals invited to discuss new research questions having to do with NINR's goal of focusing on wellness.  The meeting was described as a brainstorming session.  And at the start of the day today, the meeting was introduced as a chance to do what we always dreamed of doing in graduate school--talking about interesting research questions with colleagues.

One of the questions that we talked about was the most effective way to increase health literacy.  As I joined in the discussion about this issue, I realized how much my thinking about this type of question had changed since I had moved into my position at the Carey Business School last April.

I raised the point that health literacy is not just something that is static.  Asking a person about his or her health literacy is not like asking about their "highest level of educational attainment".  I think that the process we ended up discussing is one that could actually be quite useful:

  • Assess the current level of health literacy
  • Choose an intervention to give an immediate bump to health literacy
  • As the individual searches for new information over time provide information that is in line with the level of health literacy demonstrated at the completion of the initial intervention and continue to try to increase the literacy
  • The last point will allow the individual to learn about new conditions she has, new conditions her children may encounter, and new conditions her parents may encounter
Thus, health literacy should be something that is viewed more like a job skill set for which a person can accumulate position specific human capital rather than an educational attainment level.  My colleagues agreed with that.

I think that the key is to think about how to lay the foundation for individuals to continue to build their health literacy over their lifespans.

The key is to consider how nurses and other health professionals fit into the production of this outcome, the quantity of resources needed, and the return on investment for the individuals and society.  And to think about the business plan to make the process of assessing and improving health literacy in the population a profitable endeavor.  

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