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Health Literacy Task Force

Co-Chairs: Jane Oyler and Kathy Gaskin

What is Health Literacy?

Healthy Literacy is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.

The National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) has determined that in the United States there are 11 million adults who are non-literate in English, 30 million adults who have below basic literacy skills and 63 million adults who have basic literacy skills.

They found that only 12% of adults have proficient health literacy and they found that Adults aged 65 and over and adults who receive Medicare and Medicaid or who do not have health insurance, had the lowest average health literacy scores.

Limited health literacy is associated with medication errors, increased health costs, and inadequate knowledge and care for chronic health conditions.

History and Past Projects

The Adams County Health Literacy Task Force formed two years ago to address the need brought out through the Community Health Assessment done in 2008.

The task force has combined forces with the York County Health Literacy Task Force to develop recommendations for both communities which will help recognize cultural barriers, promote the use of plain language or relating medical issues in a way that patients will understand, while still conveying the depth of an issue and raise public awareness about the importance of health literacy.

After researching possible educational tools and tool kits that were available to address some of the recommendations, the task forces decided on The Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit, developed by the University of North Carolina’s Medical School for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The toolkit offers practices a means to structure their services and their patient interactions to minimize the risk that any one of their patients will not understand the health information they are given, thus allowing patients to make informed decisions about their health care.

A high point has been the work completed by members of the health literacy task forces of Adams and York counties and five physician practices.  Last fall, a Learning Collaborative using the toolkit was initiated and through the mentoring of Dr. Darren DeWalt of the University of North Carolina and funding by the Aligning Forces for Quality and Highmark.

The physician office staffs which included Gettysburg Adult Medicine and Adams County Internal Medicine were provided with tools to educate, encourage and support patients to speak openly and honestly about their health and wellness to their healthcare providers. The results of the work of the collaborative was shared with other physician practices emphasizing the positive outcomes for many patients, the changes in office processes, and the strengthening of the bond between the patient and care provider. Future plans include integration of many of the tools from the Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit into patient care in various healthcare and community settings.