EPALE summary: December focus on health literacy
EPALE’s thematic focus for December was health literacy. Among the resources gathered readers can find a definition of health literacy as well as interviews with professionals. They will also find references to evidence for the importance of improving health literacy, as well as descriptions of projects in the area and links to further information.
Health literacy concerns both the ability of individuals to understand and act appropriately on health information, as well as the ability of individual health professionals and the health systems they work in to communicate effectively with patients. But, as the blog posts this month have consistently noted, health literacy education should also be a tool for the empowerment of adults, playing an important role in supporting them to take a more assertive and more active role in their own healthcare.
Dr Jaap Koot from the Learning Community ‘Global Health’ in the University Medical Centre in Groningen suggested that many patients have difficulties understanding medical terms, finding their way around health facilities or adhering to medical prescriptions. He introduced the term ‘empowering interventions’ – those aimed at making people more health literate and better capable of making decisions on health topics. One response to this was to work with health professionals to improve their patient communication. Dr Koot reported on a training programme developed by universities in the Netherlands and Ireland in which health professionals are first asked how health literacy-friendly they are and then address any weaknesses with the help of experienced trainers.
We also heard from Austrian colleagues about the approach to health literacy visible in Austrian adult education, with examples of health literacy adult education in practice. They also discussed the identification of vulnerable groups that may benefit from health literacy programmes.
The National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) shared information on the recently launched guide for adult literacy and community education services Well Now! on how to run a ‘literacy-friendly’ health and wellbeing course for adults.
The Belfast Healthy Cities Programme is another example of health literacy in practice. As part of the WHO European Healthy Cities Network, Belfast will act as a champion for developing and including effective life-course approaches in city strategies, policies and plans. They also take an empowerment approach, with the aim that individuals gain better understanding of and control over their lives.
Health literacy will continue to be an important issue for European adult education and there will be an opportunity to consider the issues in more detail at the Health Literacy – Making Life Better conference in February 2018, at which examples of research and innovative practice will be shared through case study presentations and workshops.
David Mallows has 30 years of experience in adult education as a teacher, teacher trainer, manager and researcher. He was previously Director of Research at the National Research and Development Centre for adult literacy and numeracy (NRDC) at the UCL Institute of Education, London and currently represents the European Basic Skills Network in EPALE as thematic coordinator for Life Skills.