Tag Archives: Patient and Public Information

Applying the International Handbook of Health Literacy to health library and knowledge services

Personal reflections by Ruth Carlyle

The International Handbook of Health Literacy was published at the beginning of August 2019. Thanks to funding from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the 740 page volume is available open access

The editors bring together a truly international set of papers in the 45 chapters. The volume is in four parts: research into health literacy, an overview of recent developments; programmes and interventions to promote health literacy; policy programmes to promote health literacy; and future dialogue and new perspectives.

As a collected work, the International Handbook of Health Literacy affirms the relevance of health literacy across a wide range of disciplines and ‘the potential that has been attributed to health literacy in order to understand, explain and tackle individual as well as group differences in various health outcomes’ (p. xxi). Despite this potential, there is no unanimously accepted definition or measurement of health literacy (p. xxii, 139). Most of the definitions also focus on the ‘literacy’ aspects of ‘health literacy’ rather than the ‘health’ aspects (p. 649).

In the closing chapter, Stephan Van der Bourke suggests that there are three types of strategy that can be applied to address low health literacy: better health communication; better health education for the general population; and creating health literacy-friendly settings (p. 706).

Considered from the perspective of library and information services, the specific references to libraries and librarians appear in the third section of the volume, on policy programmes to promote health literacy. It is notable that the most extensive references appear in Chapter 28 on the development and implementation of Making it easy and Making it easier as health literacy policies for Scotland. NHS Education for Scotland works with library and knowledge services across a range of sectors to improve ‘signposting to useful health information’ (p. 425) and identifies closer working with librarians as one of the areas for further development (p. 431). Librarians elsewhere are involved in supporting health literacy through training the healthcare workforce (National Network of Libraries of Medicine, United States, p. 499), embedding health literacy into research and practice (British Columbia, p. 447) and creating portals of resources (New Zealand, p. 508).

The multidisciplinary and international nature of the handbook provide a resource that emphasises the scale of low health literacy as an issue and the need for a shared approach working across disciplines. The individual chapters provide insights into research studies and the needs of specific audiences, such as children and older people. Themes through the volume provide evidence of the importance of improving the awareness and communication of healthcare professionals, signposting to high-quality health information for the public and creating health literacy-friendly environments. These reinforce the value of the roles that health library and knowledge services can play in health literacy.

Health Literacy: an issue for life

To make good decisions about our health, we need to find, understand, appraise and apply health information.  This is the essence of good health literacy.

 

What is the issue?

Levels of health literacy in England are very low: 43% of working age adults cannot understand textual health information, rising to 61% when a numeracy element is added (1); and 43% adults are unable to calculate paracetamol dosage for a child based on age and weight (2).  Individual health literacy also varies.  If someone has just had a significant diagnosis, then their ability to comprehend information will be reduced.

As people live longer with multiple health conditions, they need to be able to make the treatment choices that are right for them, and to understand how to use self-management techniques or take medications.

 

What role for health library staff?

Working with patients and the public takes different forms within NHS library and knowledge services.  All depend upon library and knowledge services staff having the confidence to see how core skills in finding evidence and appraising sources apply to health information materials for patients and the public.  Supporting the health literacy awareness of colleagues, and identifying information resources of differing levels of complexity, can enable library and knowledge services to have an impact on the way that patient information materials are used.  This supports treatment choice and effective self-management of health conditions.  For this reason, health literacy is a priority for Knowledge for Healthcare work on patient and public information in 2018-2020

Library personnel in education and public library sectors are keen to collaborate on health literacy, as the information literacy and digital literacy skills that they promote feed into health literacy. Whereas good information literacy in education may be seen as a short-term benefit for coursework, health literacy is a life skill.

 

What next?

In 2018-19 we will be offering training on health literacy awareness and accredited “train the trainer” training for health library and knowledge services staff in England, which can be used as the basis of training for NHS staff and partner organisations, including public libraries.

In the meantime, resources are available to increase your awareness of health literacy issues, with tools that you can use.  Working with NHS England, Public Health England and the Community Health and Learning Foundation, Health Education England has developed a health literacy toolkit, including case studies and a “how to” guide https://www.hee.nhs.uk/our-work/health-literacy .

If you have ideas, questions or would like to be involved in shaping health literacy activity, contact Ruth.Carlyle@hee.nhs.uk

Ruth Carlyle

References

  • Rowlands, G. et al. A mismatch between population health literacy and the complexity of health information: an observational study. British Journal of General Practice Jun;65(635):e379-86. doi: 10.3399/bjgp15X685285. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26009533
  • Mayor, S. 2012. Nearly half adults in England don’t understand health information, study indicates. British Medical Journal 345:e8364 https://www.bmj.com/content/345/bmj.e8364

Health Education England collaborates with library and reading experts to improve patient choice

Health Education England (HEE) has signed a memorandum of understanding with leading organisations in the library and reading arena in a bid to promote greater and more personalised healthcare literacy across the population.

 

HEE will work with the Society of Chief Librarians and The Reading Agency to promote the importance of health literacy. The three organisations will work together to devise and launch programmes that allow people to access personalised information that allows them to make more informed choices about their care and treatment and improve the quality of their life.

 

The Society of Chief Librarians leads and manages public libraries in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and advocates continuous improvement in the library service. Its membership is made up of heads of service at each library authority.

 

The Reading Agency is a national charity inspiring people of all ages and all backgrounds to read for pleasure and empowerment. Working with partners, their aim is to make reading accessible to everyone.

 

The provision of high quality, evidence-based, accessible health information is an important driver in HEE’s Knowledge for Healthcare Framework for NHS library and knowledge services, published in 2015. The framework was developed to enable NHS bodies, staff, learners, patients and the public to use the right knowledge and evidence at the right time and place to enable better clinical decision-making.

 

Patrick Mitchell, Director, South of England, Health Education England said:

“I am delighted to sign the Memorandum of Understanding with the Society of Chief Librarians and The Reading Agency. It is a very positive step towards collaborating across sectors to underpin health literacy, ensuring people can access high quality information to assist them to make informed choices about their care and treatment.”

 

Sue Wilkinson, Chief Executive of The Reading Agency, commented:

“It is with great pleasure that we are able to formalise this important new partnership with Health Education England. We look forward to using the MOU to activate an exciting programme of activity supporting our shared work with the Society of Chief Librarians on Reading Well and the Universal Health Offer as well as HEE’s ambitions for the delivery of Patient and Public Information.”

 

Neil MacInnes, President of The Society of Librarians, added:

“It’s wonderful news that SCL and The Reading Agency’s work with HEE has now been formally ratified. Our partnership will strengthen the delivery of Reading Well and the Universal Health Offer through public libraries – keeping people in our communities active and engaged as we continue to support their health and wellbeing.”

 

For further information contact louise.goswami@nhs.net or Ruth.Carlyle@hee.nhs.uk