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Nation's First Statewide Center Addresses Health Literacy in Missouri

At a press conference Friday, the organization Health Literacy Missouri will discuss its plans to improve health literacy statewide. Health literacy is the ability to understand health related information from prescription instructions to what to do if your child gets sick, so that you can make good health decisions in everyday life. According to the organization, Health Literacy Missouri is the nation’s first and largest statewide center devoted solely to increasing health literacy. KSMU’s Adam Murphy reports.

HLM is working to address the goals outlined in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy. That’s a big name, but all it means is educating people so they can understand the large amount of complex health information. Dr. Arthur Culbert is the President and CEO of Health Literacy Missouri. He says now is an important time for everyone to understand the health system.

“Particularly at a time in our health care system where consumers are being expected to do more and more and take more responsibility for their own health care decisions, it becomes even more critical that individuals are able to understand this information,” said Dr. Clubert.

According to HLM, more that 1.6 million adults in Missouri have difficulty understanding and using health information. To help Missourians better understand the health care system, this organization is finding libraries, school systems, businesses, and other partners across the state to help in distributing health information in a way that people can easily understand.

Dr. Culbert says Missouri’s low health literacy costs the state between $3 and 7 billion annually. He says the work HLM does can reduce this cost to the state by helping Missourians make better health decisions.

“Let’s say a young mother who is experiencing health problems with her child and speaks English as a second language, and she really has no where to turn other than to continually turn to the emergency room for help. What we would suggest is a book written at a third grade level about what to do when your child gets sick that would begin to answer these questions. What that would trigger would be one, the mother would get the answers, two, she could probably send her child to school that day, and three, it would allow her not to have to skip work,” said Dr. Culbert.

Dr. Culbert and Health Literacy Missouri are touring across the state to talk about their projects and more information on the National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy. More information is available

For KSMU News, I’m Adam Murphy.