Health literacy: the need for “plain talk”

Todd Vandenbark

Health literacy logoSearching Twitter using the hashtag “#healthliteracy,” I came across an item that sounded exciting: “MAXIMUS Center for Health Literacy to Hold Conference in September: ‘Plain Talk in Complex Times.'” Presented in collaboration with the American Public Health Association, the conference offers:

  • Six preconference workshops: build your skills for communicating about health—in person, on the Web, and in print.
  • Learn from today’s decision makers and experts.
  • Two full days of speakers, panels, and skill-building workshops, plus time to meet with colleagues.

Key topics are listed as:

  • Oral communication
  • eHealth Literacy
  • Usability

To a librarian in an academic medical library, this sounded like a great resource for its intended audience: “physicians, nurses, health education specialists, and public health professionals.” The agenda covers areas such as social media, writing for the web, translation/interpretation, financial literacy, graphic design, accessibility, communicating with seniors, medicaid and health IT, and military programs. It features leaders in these fields lecturing and providing pre-conference workshops on all of these areas.

But no librarians.

While it is important and laudable to help health professionals improve how they communicate information to patients and the public, it is just as important to teach patients how to find and understand this information on their own. At the very least, this event should have invited someone from the National Library of Medicine to talk about MedlinePlus and MedlinePlus Connect, and how they can be used to provide important information to patients and clients.