Reading Health

Reading Health is a consulting practice that offers technical assistance to health care providers helping them communicate more effectively with patients who have low education levels.

In November 2006, the U.S. Department of Education released its report on the health literacy levels of American adults.  This report, which surveyed over 19,000 adults in both households and prisons, was the first attempt by the Department to connect educational skill level with a critical aspect of daily life.  Not surprisingly, the results mirrored the findings of the National Adult Literacy Survey of 2003: one third of adults surveyed had only “basic” or “below basic” (the lowest of four categories) health literacy comprehension.  They were also less healthy than those who demonstrated “intermediate” or “proficient” health literacy. Reaching the population that lacks a basic education requires healthcare providers to be extremely sensitive to all forms of communication with both the public and individual patients.  Without basic literacy skills individuals can face the same inaccessibility to quality care as those who do not have the means to pay for it.  It is this recognition that led the Saint Luke’s Foundation to be Project Learn’s first partner in the development of Reading Health: quality healthcare must address not just poverty, but also the barrier posed by a poorly educated community.

Project Learn has approached the problem of low health literacy in two ways.  The first has been to provide life skill instruction to its students covering various health issues.  This has been successful in that it helps students improve their skill levels while giving them important information about their own health.  But this reaches only a few hundred individuals annually.   The second approach is different in that it focuses on the healthcare provider rather than the patient in order to enlarge the impact of a health literacy program.  Reading Health began operating in 2002, working in partnership with the AIDS Task Force.  Its primary activity was to re-write a complex training curriculum for HIV peer counselors to easier-to-read levels.  That effort proved successful and in time Project Learn dramatically expanded Reading Health.

Reading Health now offers its services to a variety of healthcare organizations in Greater Cleveland.  Those services include the following:  re-writing materials to easy-to-read levels; conducting on-site health literacy assessment of patients; training providers how to best interact with low level readers; and training providers to write or re-write materials that are easy-to-read. Reading Health has worked with providers as varied as St. Vincent Charity Medical Center, MetroHealth, UH Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, the City of Cleveland Department of Public Health, the Cuyahoga County Department of Public Health, and the Visiting Nurses Association.
Health Literacy is emerging as an important issue both locally and nationally as practitioners develop new methods of research and new approaches to programming
There are a number of sources regarding health literacy: the best place to start is the Health Literacy Listserv.  http://lincs.ed.gov/mailman/listinfo/Healthliteracy