What We Can Do To Improve Health Literacy, Part II.

As discussed in last weeks blog post, low health literacy rates are a serious problem within the U.S. Fortunately, with the goals set forth by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), improving health literacy rates and creating a standard which is accessible for those of all health literacy levels is becoming more of a priority. This week we will cover two more proactive steps which one can take to help improve health literacy rates.

Breaking Down Cultural Barriers with HRSA

According to the US Census Bureau, the US population in 2002 was about 287 million. And according to the White House Office of Management and Budget, a 2002 report estimated the number of patient encounters across language barriers each year at 66 million. When calculated, about 25% of the population experienced language barriers when visiting a medical professional in 2002, and that’s assuming every US citizen visited a medical professional at least once. A large reason for low literacy rates in America are cultural communication barriers. Fortunately, The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has developed an online tool to help break down cultural barriers and open up communication between medical professionals and patients. Effective Communication Tools for Healthcare Professionals (ECTHP) is a free online training tool presented by the HRSA and available for all medical professionals. ECTHP is a 5 module system, including education in the following areas:


  1. Health communication

  2. Health Literacy

  3. Cultural competency

  4. Limited English Proficiency

  5. Capstone Activity


With its 5 modules, the training service takes approximately 5 hours and can help providers in learning how to actively acknowledge cultural diversity, address low health literacy, and accommodate low English proficiency. It is a tool that has helped over 4,000 medical professionals and students in improving patient-doctor communication, and when utilized can help to improve overall health literacy.


Committing to the National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy

Finally, in 2010 The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services developed the National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy (NAPIHL). The plan was devised in order to engage organizations, professionals, policymakers, communities, individuals, and families in a linked, multi sector effort to improve health literacy. The plan itself lays out 7 goals that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services believe are necessary to improve health literacy and promote communication between medical professionals and patients. The goals are as follows:


  1. Develop and disseminate health and safety information that is accurate, accessible and actionable.

  2. Promote changes in the health care delivery system that improve health information, communication, informed decision making, and access to health services.

  3. Incorporate accurate, standards-based, and developmentally appropriate health and science information and curricula in child care and education through university levels.

  4. Support and expand local efforts to provide adult education, English language instructions, and culturally and linguistically appropriate health information services in the community.

  5. Build partnerships, develop guidance, and change policies.

  6. Increase basic research and the development, implementation, and evaluation of practices and interventions to improve health literacy.

  7. Increase the dissemination and use of evidence-based health literacy practices and interventions. to communication, informed decision making, and access to health service.


Following these goals takes commitment on part of a medical practice. And while the NAPIHL is still in its preliminary stages, it is thought that each goal should work together as building blocks for a more health literate future.

Health literacy in America has been a problem for far too long. Assuredly, with the many goals laid out by the Affordable Care Act (ie: shared decision making, patient engagement, etc.) focusing our nation’s efforts on improving health literacy is now crucial. And with the different technological resources and government standards set in motion, a more health literate future finally seems possible. At Polar Green, we’re working towards designing innovative technology that promotes solutions to modern concerns such as health literacy. For more information on what we do at Polar Green and how you can get involved in developing more of a health literate future, visit us here: http://bit.ly/1mvdzkl