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Center for Health Literacy Promotion Blog

Health Literacy: State of the Science

More notes from the World Wide Universities Health Literacy Network meeting.
Sandra Smith, PhD
This summary of Rima Rudd’s eloquent comments is taken from my personal notes. Any errors are mine.
“It is time to move the microscope away from the patient,” U.S. health literacy leader, Dr. Rima Rudd,  told the Worldwide Universities Network Global Health Challenge conference.  Over 2000 published articles say that health related materials exceed the literacy skills of most Americans. And we are still producing inappropriate materials and websites.  We cannot continue to document. It is time for action and change.
It is time to address gaps in knowledge. We have not systematically measured professionals’ skills, or systemic barriers. We do have not standards of practice. We are still tightly focused on healthcare settings, Dr Rudd said. It is time to leave the doctor’s office and establish a better scientific base for our work.
We need to examine the context in which people use information with lots more care.  We need to foster balanced inquiry: reading skill and demands of text; literacy skills of the listener and clarity of the speaker. We need to consider constraints before prescribing action.
It is time to go outside the box and attend to critical literacy, the capacity for individual action. It is time for action research to engage people in identifying barriers and creating new knowledge; engage them as partners not as subjects. 
Dr Rudd left the group with the reflective question: What kind of environments, what professional actions and practices, what policies foster health literacy?
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