Health Literacy: Moving from the Conference Room to the Clinic

Published on
May 25, 2010

The focus of today's conference, Improving Health Literacy in Los Angeles, was on ways in which medical providers can improve the community's understanding of health concerns and health care.

We are "focusing on expanding health literacy in L.A. and the western region," said Ellen Iverson, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the USC Keck School of Medicine, who introduced the conference panelists.

Within the first hour, the panelists agreed that providers must take an active role in understanding patients, just as they ask patients to understand their own health care.

But throughout the day, the question arose on more than one occasion: how do we move from conversation to action?

The question was first raised by Shanpin Fanchiang, PhD, a member of the audience. 

"How do we take this beyond this room?" she asked. "You have ‘the choir' here how do we get more choirs?"

Panelists offered answers that ranged from creating the right climate in clinics to empowering patients to help create change.

"Why not community-level advocacy? Why not political advocacy?" said Rishi Manchanda, MD. "That allows us to expand the scope, expand the role of patients as change-makers. It also takes the pressure off providers to change the health of a community."

Panelist Tess Boley Cruz, PhD, assistant professor of clinical and preventive medicine at USC, added that change can be more broad. 

"These can be structural changes that we can be working on in our organizations," she said.

Ideas were offered as the conference progressed about reaching the community through advocates like promotoras, who are community educators that reach out to the Spanish-speaking community, and nurse navigators, who act as ambassadors to underserved communities.

Still, attendees questioned whether the conversation could – and would – move to a more practical level.

"How many people in the room have the power to affect change on these topics?" asked Mireya Pena of the Arthritis Foundation during a break in the presentations.