During my first week at HealthEd in 2005, I heard the term health literacy used perhaps a dozen times in various conversations.
I thought I knew what it meant: the level of knowledge a person has about health. Using that (totally wrong!) definition, I figured I had above-average health literacy, since I was very interested in health topics and had worked for a time in the healthcare marketing industry.
I was new to the organization and wanted to fit in. My colleagues mentioned health literacy in daily work conversations, so I started using the term, too, both inside and outside the office. I felt very smart, talking about “literacy” issues. Thankfully, within my first month on the job—and before causing myself serious embarrassment—I attended a Clear by Design™: Health Literacy Fundamentals workshop.
It was a transformative experience. The instructor, one of my colleagues, opened the session with an exercise that I remember vividly. She asked each of us to imagine being “completely nauseated, with a pounding headache and with significant pain, as though someone were squeezing your foot in a vise—something ranging from annoying to awful.” We did our best to commence feeling awful. She then passed around a text-heavy document filled with medical jargon and said, “Now read this, and imagine you are responsible for understanding and acting on this information. This is what many people experience when they are given health information about their condition. They are expected to understand and act on that information. How can we make it easier for them?”
The point of the exercise was to immediately address the common misperception that low health literacy is simply a lack of health knowledge or inadequate reading (literacy) skills. But in fact everyone—regardless of education level, intelligence, or socioeconomic status—can experience challenges in understanding complex medical information, especially when he or she is undergoing the stress and symptoms of illness.
The training I received that day showed me that HealthEd is deeply committed to addressing health literacy challenges. As the leader of this organization today, I am tremendously proud of our accomplishments and efforts to share our knowledge and skills with the broad healthcare community.
This blog is brought to you by HealthEd as part of our commitment to Health Literacy Month ... and to creating a healthier world. We are excited to share with you a series of tools, resources, and thought-provoking ideas. We hope you will join the conversation. Visit our health literacy page on HealthEd.com, watch for our blog updates, and follow us on Twitter.