US Public Policy on Health Literacy

US Public Policy
on Health Literacy
Amber Burtis
Midwest Chapter MLA
Madison, Wisconsin
September 26, 2010
• Background
• History of public policy related to health
• “The National Action Plan to Improve
Health Literacy”
• Implications for libraries
Public Policy
• The laws, regulations, courses of action,
& funding priorities given to a specific
topic by a governmental entity or its
representatives (Evans, 2008).
• Both action & inaction
Quick Background
“The degree to which individuals have
the capacity to obtain, process, &
understand basic health information &
services needed to make appropriate
health decisions” (IOM, 2004).
▫ Finding/evaluating health information
▫ Navigating health care system
▫ Poorer health outcomes & higher
medical costs
History of Concept
• First mentioned in a paper titled “Health
Education as Social Policy” which
discussed the need for policy solutions to
increase health literacy (Simonds, 1974).
• Earliest study linking literacy & health
outcomes was the article “Literacy &
Health Status in Developing Countries”
(Grosse & Auffrey, 1989).
National Literacy Act (1991)
• Important moment in history of health
literacy policy
• Goal was “to enhance the literacy and
basic skills of adults…necessary to
function effectively and achieve the
greatest possible opportunity in their work
and in their lives” (National Literacy Act,
National Adult Literacy Survey (1993)
• Came out of the National Literacy Act
• First study to identify the severity of
illiteracy in the US (data available 1994)
• 1990s time of increased research &
assessment with more interest from
government & health professions
AMA Policy Statement (1999)
• Work collaboratively to make the health
care community aware of issue
• Encourage development of medical
education that incorporates
• Encourage the allocation of federal &
private funds for research
Healthy People 2010 (2000)
The Improvement of Health Literacy
(Objective 11-2)
• Develop national agenda for health literacy
• Change practice for health professionals
• Enhance access to health info & health services
• Include health literacy in policy & program
• Enhance health literacy research & translation
into practice
National Assessment of
Adult Literacy (2003)
• 10 years after the original survey
• Health literacy component
• Provided the first assessment of the
population's health literacy
Surgeon General (2002-2006)
• Health literacy one of Dr. Richard
Carmona’s “7 public health priorities”
• “Health literacy is the currency of
success for everything I am doing as
Surgeon General” (AMA House of Delegates
Mtg, 2003).
• Workshop on Improving Health Literacy
Health Literacy: A Prescription
to End Confusion (2004)
• Increased research funds
• New measures
• Accreditation requirements for health ed
• Assessment as part of health care
information systems (IOM, 2004)
Federal Funding (2004 & 2010)
• Substantial federal funding announced in
2004. Reissued in 2010.
• Goal: increase understanding of the “nature
of health literacy and its relationships with
health outcomes”
• Measurement, life course variation,
outcomes, mediators and moderators,
interventions, new technologies (HHS, 2010).
IOM Roundtable (2006-present)
• Building on IOM report, convened the
Roundtable on Health Literacy
• “To move forward the field of health
literacy by translating research findings
to practical strategies that can be
implemented” (IOM, 2010).
• 10 meetings
National Health Literacy Act (2007)
Would establish a Health Literacy
Implementation Center to:
▫ Coordinate health literacy activities
between HHS & Dept. of Education
▫ Award grants to states to establish
health literacy resource centers
Patient Protection &
Affordable Care Act (2010)
• Mentioned several times - differing levels
of health literacy, prescription labeling,
workforce training
• Health Literacy & Health Care Reform
Workshop (November, IOM Roundtable)
• “Health literacy is needed to make health
reform a reality,“ HHS Secretary Sebelius
National Action Plan to Improve
Health Literacy (2010)
• Based on Surgeon General’s Workshop
(2006), town hall meetings (2007 & 2008)
& stakeholder feedback (2009)
• Develop/disseminate accurate health
• Promote changes in health care system
• Incorporate standards-based health ed
National Action Plan to Improve
Health Literacy (2010)
• Expand adult education, ESOL, culturally
& linguistically appropriate info services
• Build partnerships & change policies
• Increase research & evaluation
• Increase dissemination & use of
evidence-based practices/interventions
Implication for Libraries
• “Library” or “Librarian” mentioned 46 times
in 67 page report
• Plug for MLA training
• “Library professionals” named as critical
• School libraries fundamental
• Health literacy intersects with info literacy
Implications for Libraries
• Suggest consumers & health
professionals use and refer to libraries
• Goal 2 – training for health professionals
• Goal 4 – appropriate information services
• Goal 7 – dissemination of research base
Amber Burtis
Health Sciences Librarian
Southern Illinois University Carbondale
[email protected]
Works Cited
American Medical Association, Council on Scientific Affairs, Ad Hoc Committee on Health Literacy. (1999). Health
literacy: Report of the Council on Scientific Affairs. JAMA, 281(6):552-557.
Carmona, R.H. (2003, June). Health Literacy in America: The Role of Health Care Professionals. Speech presented
at the American Medical Association. Retrieved from:
Centers for Disease Control. (2007). The obesity epidemic and United States students. Retrieved from:
Evans, S.J. (2008). Public Policy Issues Research Trends. Preface, vii. Nova Science Publishers: New York.
Grosse R.N., & Auffrey C. (1989). Literacy and health status in developing countries. Annual Review of Public Health
10, 281-97.
Institute of Medicine. (2004). Health literacy: A prescription to end confusion. Washington, D.C.: The National
Academies Press.
Institute of Medicine. (2010). Roundtable on Health Literacy. Retrieved from:
National Health Literacy Act of 2007, S. 2424, 110th Cong., 1st Sess. (2007).
National Literacy Act of 1991, Pub. L. No. 102-73, 105 Stat. 333 (1991).
Simonds, S.K. (1974). Health education as social policy. Health Education Monograph, 2, 1–25.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2000). Healthy People 2010. Retrieved from
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2010a). National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy.
Retrieved from
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2010b). Understanding and Promoting Health Literacy (R21).
Retrieved from:

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