Health literacy is gaining increasing attention at a national policy level, Marge Overs reports from an International Health Literacy Network conference held recently at the University of Sydney.
Marge Overs writes:
Health literacy has growing support at the national level, and is increasingly being recognised in national and policy reform process, according to Nicola Dunbar from the Australia Commission on Safety and Quality in Healthcare.
One example of policy reform is the National Safety and Quality Health Service Standards, a set of 10 safety and quality accreditation standards that all hospitals and health services in Australia now need to meet.
While those standards don’t specifically address health literacy, she said a number of standards include items around providing information in a way that people can understand, working with consumers to get feedback about patient information, and working with patients about making decision about their care.
“So this is a starting point around how we can incorporate health literacy into the way that health services operate,” Ms Dunbar said. “We’ll be reviewing the standards in 2015 so there will be an opportunity for us to be stronger about these things potentially and to look further about how we can bring health literacy further to the fore.”
Ms Dunbar said the Commission had increased its focus on health literacy issues over the past few years, including conducting a stocktake of health literacy Australian initiatives in 2011-2012, which received 66 submissions describing more than 200 initiatives.
“Broadly we found that while a lot of people were doing things in health literacy, but it’s quite fragmented … with really little potential for taking a similar approach at a national level.”
Following the stocktake, the commission released a consultation paper to prompt discussion on what health literacy is and what it means — to make the case for the importance of health literacy at a higher policy level.
The paper, which was released in June 2013, drew more than 110 submissions from a diverse range of organisations.
While the Commission is still collating the results, Ms Dunbar said that key issues and needs included:
- Embed health literacy into high levels system and organisational policies
- Produce health information that is clear and focused
- Integrate health literacy into education for consumers and health care providers
- Support for the Commission’s national approach, ie the need to look at health literacy in a high-level way, including legislation, accreditation, regulation:
- Recognition that to improve health literacy, we need to change the culture of the health system
- Recognition that more research is needed; that the evidence base is weak
- The need to look more closely at the interconnection around health literacy and specific vulnerable groups, such as Aboriginal people and people with specific illnesses and disabilities.
Ms Dunbar said the Commission plans to take the paper to Health Ministers for endorsement by mid-2014.
“I think this is a really important way of getting that national leadership, of getting that national recognition that health literacy is important to the health system,” she said.
“If we want to have consumers who are partners in the health care system, health literacy is an essential part of that.”
Meanwhile, a pertinent tweet citing one of the conference organisers, Associate Professor Kirsten McCaffery:
• You can track Croakey’s coverage of the conference here.