Health literacy is focused on what physicians and other health care providers can do to provide their patients with information that is both understandable and useful. Patients often struggle understanding what they need to know and do – and health care professionals often deliver messages that are too complicated for patients to understand.
An Institute of Medicine (IOM) report estimated that nearly half the adult population lacks the literacy skills to understand and use health information. One study found that just 12 percent of U.S. adults have the health literacy skills they need to manage the demands of our complex health care system. In addition, their ability to absorb and use health information can be compromised by stress or illness. Limited health literacy is associated with poor health status, higher use of services, and worse clinical outcomes.
Preventable complications result in more stress on the patient and their family members – as well as increased costs. “Patient centeredness” is a salient theme within the medical profession, but it can be a difficult practice to put into place on a daily basis. Health literacy encourages physicians and other health care providers to practice good listening and communications skills to ensure that their
patients receive information and advice they need in a way that is both understandable and useful.
Ruth Parker, M.D., is a professor of Medicine, Pediatrics and Public Health Department at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. She attended medical school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Parker completed residencies in internal medicine and pediatrics at the University of Rochester, and she was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Parker has focused on health literacy for more than 20 years.
She is a co-author of the ‘Test of Functional Health Literacy in Adults’ (TOFHLA) and the definition of health literacy that is used by Healthy People 2010, the IOM, the NIH, and in the Affordable Care Act. Dr. Parker has served in leadership roles as a health literacy advocate for professional societies, including the AMA and the ACP Foundation.
She has consulted with a number of state and federal agencies, professional organizations, and industry regarding their health literacy efforts. Dr. Parker was a member of the IOM Health Literacy Committee and the Health Literacy Roundtable. She has received a number of national awards for her work.
Dr. Ruth Parker, MD, Professor of Medicine, Pediatrics and Public Health
Department, Emory University School of Medicine