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Improving Health Literacy: Applying Knowledge Gained from the IHA Health Literacy Conference

The Institute for Healthcare Advancement’s (IHA) 13th Annual Health Literacy Conference was held May 7-9 in Irvine, CA. The conference attracts people from all over the country, including health educators, clinicians, public health workers, health insurance and systems personnel, librarians, and many others who have a need to understand best practices for improving health literacy among the population. The conference theme was ‘Health Literacy and the Affordable Care Act,’ an especially important and timely topic this year after the implementation of the new healthcare reform law. I attended the conference and also staffed the NN/LM PSR exhibit booth, which provided the opportunity to spread the word about MedlinePlus.gov and other quality health information resources for members of the general public. Communicating with attendees helped me learn more about the needs of different user groups and how we might improve our services. NN/LM PSR also provided an educational stipend for Laura Brown, Clinical Librarian at City of Hope Graff Medical and Scientific Library, to attend the meeting.

Presenters and audience at the IHA Health Literacy Conference

The three-day event began with a number of Preconference Workshops including an all day workshop titled Writing and Designing Effective Communication. A highlight was the IHA Live Social Media Event during lunch. The event was a live webcast and available to anyone who wanted to attend; it was also recorded and is available for viewing. During the session, a number of selected short videos were shown that had been submitted prior to the conference, each one highlighting a story related to the Affordable Care Act and health literacy. For new attendees, the first evening included Health Literacy 101, an annual session which provides an introduction to the topic. The final talk of the day was specifically of interest to hospital librarians: Integrating Health Literacy into Your Organization: Subtle Issues to Consider. This session focused on the IOM publication Ten Attributes of Health Literate Health Care Organizations, a worthwhile discussion paper for anyone interested in the topic of health literacy. A more in-depth session led by Russell Rothman, MD, focused on this publication on the last day of the conference. Another session that was ideal for hospital librarians was Reducing Unnecessary Readmissions: The New RED (Re-Engineered Discharge) Tool. The tool is based on the AHRQ Project RED (Re-Engineered Discharge) Training Program. Laura plans to review the content and will present information about the tool at her next meeting for the hospital Readmissions Committee.

Laura offered further thoughts about the meeting from a hospital librarian’s point of view:

Laura Brown Medical Librarian at City of Hope and NN/LM PSR's Kelli Ham

This is the second time I have attended this conference; the first being five or six years ago. I have to admit that I am relying on my memory, but my distinct impression is that the conference has shown the same advancement that the field has shown. Back in the earlier years of the field it seemed that much more time was taken up talking about the scope of the problem and theoretical solutions. This year’s conference consisted more of concrete activities that solved specific problems. I found that difference very refreshing. One of the things that did stay the same was having multiple sessions emphasizing the importance of involving the intended audience, both with contributions and testing of the health literacy solutions.

The problem of health literacy is a huge one that is nowhere near solved, but progress is being made. The wonderful aspect of this conference is the wide variety of professionals who show they have a stake in the solution; attendees included physicians, nurses, pharmacists, dieticians, public health officials, social workers, and a few librarians. The conference draws its strength not only from the well-known keynote speakers, but also from the excellent breakout sessions. Kelli attended the session From Didactic to Fantastic: Adding Interactivity into Your Learning Session, which included some great suggestions for engaging learners of all literacy levels, primarily by focusing on learners as active participants. The instructor (Farrah Schwartz, Toronto) identified best practices and a variety of interactive activities, and how to use them with lower literacy audiences.

Another excellent breakout session was a panel discussion titled Health Insurance Literacy: Solutions from a Successful Model. The speakers described the incredible challenges faced in Missouri with regards to informing residents about enrolling for insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Ryan Barker from the Missouri Health Foundation told attendees about an extremely restrictive law passed by voters in 2012 that prohibited the governor or any state agency from establishing or operating a state-based health insurance exchange. Essentially, the law prevented government entities from providing any information, help, or resources about the marketplace or face the risk of being sued by anyone, including at the individual level. As in many other states, Missouri opted to let the federal government run its health insurance exchange. But because of the law, literally no assistance for residents was provided by state agencies in any form about insurance options, requirements, consumer protection, or other topics related to the ACA. Luckily, the Missouri Health Foundation stepped in to create the Cover Missouri Coalition, bringing in dozens of organizations focused on health advocacy and provider services. Health Literacy Missouri received a grant from the Foundation; Catina O’Leary discussed how the organization created training to increase health insurance literacy and technical assistance to expand coverage in Missouri over the next several years.

With the focus on health insurance literacy, this year’s conference touched on issues that are very appropriate and useful for public librarians. Issues around the Affordable Care Act and literacy continue to be a timely topic, and information gained will be incorporated into NN/LM PSR’s consumer health training materials for public librarians. An added bonus to attending the conference was the ability to earn a total of 16 Medical Library Association continuing education credits. The IHA understands the importance and value of bringing medical and consumer health librarians to the table; we are grateful for IHA’s continued support and commitment to this professional development opportunity. If you missed this year’s conference, be sure to consider attending next year!

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