Yes, YOU. You can help redefine health literacy. Right now! As long as you’re reading this before August 5, 2019, you can help redefine health literacy.
I’ll share the news, the important details, and some resources to get your thoughts going.
From a recent email update from the CDC:
“The Department of Health and Human Services is seeking input into an updated definition of Health Literacy for Healthy People 2030. The Secretary’s Advisory Committee on National Health Promotion and Disease Prevention proposed a working definition of Health Literacy. This proposed definition is meant to be only a starting point.” (emphasis mine)
Here’s that working definition, from the Federal Register Notice
“The Secretary’s Advisory Committee on National Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Objectives used this working definition of health literacy for 2030:
Health literacy occurs when a society provides accurate health information and services that people can easily find, understand, and use to inform their decisions and actions.
This working definition reflects the evolution of the concept of health literacy toward a consensus that health literacy is affected not only by an individual’s capacities, but also by the accessibility, clarity, and actionability of health information and health services.”
You can read more about the proposed new definition here.
Share your thoughts! Written comments will be accepted via email at Definehealthliteracy@HHS.gov.
Written comments must be submitted by August 5, 2019. They’re asking us to pretty please send in by mid-July if possible.
Here’s the guidelines:
- Address the strengths and/or weaknesses of the recommended definition,
- Be brief and concise; Limit 250 words
- Make specific editing suggestions, and
- Cite articles that support suggested changes (if any).
I’m submitting my thoughts, and I invite you to do the same! Lots of people are – about 200 folks were on the CDC informational webinar I attended last week, and more than 5k have visited the Federal Register Notice.
To help get you started
Not sure what to say? Here’s some resources to get you thinking.
- Since I often get to talk with physicians one-on-one, I decided to ask a few physicians a simple question: When you hear the phrase ‘health literacy,’ what does it mean to you? I expected their answers to vary, and they did. In What does health literacy mean to you? I share one physician’s response, and unpack it in a way that might get you thinking about your answer to that question.
- In 4 handy reminders about health literacy, I invite you to see health literacy as something you can work with. Not only because worry is a waste of energy, but because health literacy is something you can impact. So here are 4 things to keep in mind so you can feel more confident–or perhaps see yourself as more competent–when it comes to doing something about health literacy. Like writing that submission to Definehealthliteracy@HHS.gov.
Let’s look at that working definition again:
‘Health literacy occurs when a society provides accurate health information and services that people can easily find, understand, and use to inform their decisions and actions.’
But wait…there’s more support!
- Here’s Rima Rudd’s 2015 article,“The evolving concept of Health Literacy: New directions for Health Literacy Studies.” In it, she explains that, over the years, the health literacy field had outgrown the current definitions: “Analysts began to note that the narrow definition of health literacy (defined and measured as individual skills and capacity) stymied attempts to redress [health] disparities.”
- Here’s another: The Federal Register Notices cites the 2016 Discussion Paper from the NAM, titled “Considerations for a new definition of health literacy.” In it, a group of leading health literacy researchers and scholars take a brief look back at health literacy as a field, with the wisdom of hindsight:
“In the initial excitement of identifying a new variable for health analyses, researchers developed tools for measuring the health literacy skills and deficits of individuals without factoring in measures of the texts and talks and contexts within which these exchanges take place.”
They summarize that “When health literacy is conceptualized only as an attribute or ability of an individual, both research and practice will be stymied.”
The authors invite us to think of “health literacy as an interaction.” Not as a decontextualized skill. Not as an information exchange (like exchanging phone numbers or pocket snacks). But as an interaction.
- I dive into this idea in Health literacy as an interaction, Part 1.
- I take it a bit further in Health literacy as an interaction, Part 2:
Despite the conceptual developments of the last decade around health literacy as a complex process, individualized approaches toward health literacy remain dominant in research. Health literacy, in professional and public discourse, still gets talked about as something individuals have, or don’t have, in adequate amounts.
Increasingly, however, health literacy is being considered as a process. Among researchers who consider health literacy as a process, many pay attention to different interactions that have bearing on individuals’ health literacy activities.
Looking at health literacy as an interaction allows us more options for working with it. Options we don’t have if we see health literacy as only some trait that individuals have (or don’t have) in adequate amounts.
Based on my background and experience in health literacy, and literacy more generally, I’m legit excited about the possibilities in this new working definition. So make your voice heard before August 5, 2019 at Definehealthliteracy@HHS.gov.