Health Literacy, reducing inequalities and universal precautions

Improving-health-literacy-to-reduce-health-inequalitiesThe UCL Institute of Health Equity, led by Professor Sir Michael Marmot has produced a practice resource ‘Improving health literacy to reduce health inequalities’. Our co-founder and academic advisor Professor Theo Raynor was one of a number of experts invited to input into the report, and he outlines here the key messages for him from this important report.

The new Public Health England resource on improving health literacy to reduce inequalities is important on two fronts. Firstly it highlights the impact on disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, and how that can be specifically addressed. Secondly, it highlights that anyone can have limited health literacy – and that nearly half of working age people are unable to make use of everyday health information.

To address the second point, the resource highlights the idea of ‘universal precautions’ to address health literacy – making all health information as easy to use and access as possible – to benefit all patients. I have characterised this in the past as being a ‘two-way street’ (1). So, as well as trying to identify patients with ‘low health literacy’, health and social care organisations need to make sure they are ‘health literate’ themselves. A person’s health literacy depends both on their own abilities and on the efforts of health and social care systems to make their services and information clear and accessible for all (2).

This underpins the philosophy which supports the work of Luto Research – applying the principles of good practice in information writing and design to make sure health information is fit-for-purpose – and then getting members of the public (‘real people’) to test the information – can the full spectrum of all patients find and understand the key points for safe and effective use?

1. Raynor DK. Medication Literacy Is a 2-Way Street (Editorial). Mayo Clinic Proceedings; May 2008;83(5):520-522

2. Raynor DK. Health literacy – is it time to shift our focus from patient to provider (Editorial). British Medical Journal 2012; 344: e2188