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Health Literacy: Succeeding One Project at a Time

Note: This is the first in a series of articles on librarian involvement in health information literacy.

Health literacy is the “degree to which an individual has the capacity to obtain, communicate, process and understand health information and services in order to make appropriate health decisions.” The RML wants to help you foster health literacy in your institution, while also advocating for your library and its services, so we’ve made a list of things to keep in mind and ways to get started!

Before diving in, it’s important to keep in mind that this is a gradual process and it takes time to build relationships and trust and as they say, “slow and steady wins the race.” We also know that not all suggestions or activities are appropriate for every institution. We encourage you to get creative and find ways to either make an adjustment so it can work for you, or use it as a jumping off point to think of new ideas. We highly suggest you seek out your supervisor’s approval. This offers them the opportunity to provide support and suggest contacts. As an added bonus, you can use this as a way to get buy-in from them to not just support you in your efforts, but to become involved themselves.

Getting started can be the hardest part, but not if you build and use your network. Start with people you know first, get them on board and then work out from there. Have them suggest people who have a stake in health information literacy, and have them introduce you or otherwise facilitate the relationship. Build on success, if there is already a great program in place, build on that and supplement it. Or if something is already working, try and expand the program into new areas. Do keep in mind, you need to know your organization. You want to make sure your efforts are in step with the current culture and you follow protocols.

We’ll be detailing ways to get involved in a series of articles, and we’re going to kick off by giving you two ways to get started with simple step by step instructions.

Project: Get Involved in Patient Education

  1. Identify the department head or appropriate person in patient education and contact them. This could be the patient education nurse, if your institution has one.
  2. Ask what the department is doing for health literacy and how the librarian can help.
  3. Find out when patient information is provided, and if appropriate, investigate ways the librarian can provide information. This might involve integrating MedlinePlus Connect into the electronic health record, or some other kind of change, like patients being referred to the library.
  4. Obtain and do a health literacy audit of current education materials. This can be used to illustrate potential hurdles for patients, demonstrate a need for librarian involvement in patient education, and advertise services for health literacy the library provides.
  5. Prepare talking points about why the librarian should be involved. Have an “elevator speech” ready. You never know when a decision maker might be in your company, and you want to be prepared. Constant vigilance.
  6. Identify a list of health literacy resources for use in patient education and have it vetted by medical staff. Revise as needed.
  7. Potentially offer training on said resources to patient education staff.
  8. Always work towards library inclusion in the process of project development.

Project: Provide Lunch & Learn on Health Information Literacy

  1. Identify and work with the Continuing Education department. This might be for physicians, nurses, or other personnel.
  2. Assess needs and interest. This could be done by checking past CE offerings, have there been any classes or training on health literacy? You could also do an informal survey of colleagues to determine specific topics of interest, either in person or via email.
  3. Meet criteria for continuing education credit approval. This process is subject to change depending on your audience. Be flexible enough with your content and delivery to be able to meet the criteria.
  4. Decide on the focus – what are the goals? Be clear about what you want to accomplish. It could be to raise awareness of health literacy, train people how to use a resource, or showcase your role as a librarian in patient education and how that can impact health outcomes.
  5. Develop an evaluation plan. Once you have your goals laid out, you can decide how to measure success. Be specific.
  6. Develop a promotional plan. Consider how to attract participants. Can you offer free lunch or refreshments? Is there a space available that is convenient to the audience you want to attract? Think about what channels you can use to reach your potential audience – if email is best or the departmental newsletter, or maybe even posters in your library.

We hope this is enough to get you started, or at least thinking about ways to get involved in health literacy. As always, we invite you to please share your success stories, not-so-success stories, challenges, barriers, suggestions, tips & tricks for others and anything else you think can help.

-Monica Rogers, Health Information Literacy Coordinator
-Barbara Jones, Missouri/Library Advocacy Coordinator

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