Helen: Welcome to Health Literacy Out Loud. I’m Helen Osborne, president of Health Literacy Consulting, founder of Health Literacy Month and your host of Health Literacy Out Loud.
In these podcasts, you get to listen in on my conversations with some really remarkable people and hear what health literacy is, why it matters and ways we all can help improve health understanding.
Today I’m talking with Lyla Hernandez, who for many years was a senior program officer at the Institute of Medicine, or IOM. During this time, Lyla served as the study director for a range of projects and topics including public health, health indicators, genomics and Gulf War veterans’ health.
Now Lyla is the staff director of IOM’s Roundtable on Health Literacy. Welcome.
Lyla: Thank you.
Helen: I am a huge fan of the wonderful work that the IOM Roundtable on Health Literacy is doing, but sometimes I get the feeling that not enough people know about it. Let’s take it from the beginning. Tell us all what the IOM Health Literacy Roundtable is.
Lyla: The roundtable is a group of individuals who come from many different backgrounds such as academia, industry, government, foundations and associations. What they have in common is that they have an interest in both improving health literacy amongst individuals and helping organizations become more health literate.
The objective of the roundtable is to engage each sector in actively developing policies, sharing knowledge, and building skills so that we can create a more health literate environment by focusing on individuals and organizations.
Helen: I’ve been at some of the IOM meetings. First off, you call it a roundtable. I think of Knights of the Round Table. It’s not a roundtable, it’s not just men and it’s not all that small, is it?
Lyla: That’s correct. We have 27 members at this point.
Helen: When I go to meetings there is a great big square that takes up the middle of a big room with all these thought leaders and health literacy names I’ve heard of everywhere. They’re all together on this roundtable, correct?
Lyla: That’s correct. It is not exactly a roundtable, but by using that name we’re trying to create the idea that folks are engaged in discussion and interchange.
Helen: You have researchers, policymakers and people from industry. Are there journalists?
Lyla: No, I don’t believe there are any journalists on the roundtable.
Helen: I think years ago there used to be. Everybody gets together. How are these very special people in the middle of the room chosen?
Lyla: We have two kinds of members. We have members who represent sponsors. The roundtable is funded by its sponsors. The sponsors contribute funding and they appoint a representative to the roundtable. For that reason, the roundtable publications and activities contain no recommendations or conclusions or findings because those with an interest actually sit at the table.
Another kind of membership is particular organizations that have been identified as key, such as the American Heart Association. They’ve been doing some major activity in health literacy, so they’re asked to send a representative.
I guess I should say we have three kinds because we also have the academic members, the researchers. Those are the ones that we choose because of their expertise in health literacy.
Helen: You also have a lot of government people, don’t you?
Lyla: Yes, we do. The government members are actually sponsors.
Helen: You have your sponsors, organizations and researchers. But do you have any everyday “worker-bee” people doing the day-to-day work?
Lyla: Most of the people who represent the sponsors are worker bees in the sense that their job within the organization is health literacy.
Helen: All right. You’ve got this lofty group. You said that as a roundtable your discussions are looking at issues such as policies, leadership and skills. Make that clear for all of our listeners, please. What is that like?
Lyla: It’s very exciting. We have several ways that we engage in these kinds of discussions. We have workshops and symposia. We have discussion papers that are put out to generate interest and thought on a variety of different issues.
For example, in 2012 we put out a discussion paper on the attributes of a health literate organization.
Helen: Lyla, that is one of my favorite papers of all times. I don’t like to use the term too often, but it is a game changer.
Lyla: That’s good. I hope so.
Helen: It is redefining and refashioning health literacy and what it’s all about. I’ve printed it out many times. It was an IOM discussion paper.
Lyla: That’s correct.
Helen: You said that you don’t really set policy. Explain that, please.
Lyla: These discussion papers are not products of the roundtable itself, but rather some members of the Roundtable got together and wrote the paper. It expresses their opinion and ideas.
Helen: It has their names on it.
Lyla: That’s correct. It has their names on it and it’s published by IOM. What the roundtable did was take that and held a workshop after it had been out for a while. We invited people from a variety of organizations that had been trying to implement activities that would bring their organization along the road to becoming health literate.
We asked them to come in and talk to us about what they had done. We asked how they got interested in health literacy and which of the attributes they were working on.
Helen: Lyla, we’ve got these discussion papers and they’re amazing, but what is it that I see when occasionally I go to these meetings? They are open to the public. I’m not invited. I don’t pay, other than my own transportation expenses. I go to these meetings and all of these lofty people are sitting in the middle. Is that a workshop?
Lyla: Yes. That’s what we call a workshop.
Helen: What happens in a workshop?
Lyla: A workshop has presentations from experts and activists in the field. The presentations usually come in a panel organized around a particular topic, and then there’s a period of discussion where roundtable members are first given a chance to ask questions. Then hopefully we have enough time to open it up to the broad participation of those who are there.
We’ve also just started webcasting. That was new for us last year. It has drawn in many more people and given them access.
Helen: Tell our listeners about the webcast. Sometimes the meetings I’ve gone to are in Washington. I remember I went to at least one in New York, and I think one was in California. I certainly don’t get to them all.
There are just a few a year. It’s hard to get there and it’s expensive to get there. What are these webcasts? Is that something Health Literacy Out Loud listeners could listen to or be part of?
Lyla: Absolutely. The roundtable website is www.IOM.edu/healthliteracyrt.
Helen: We’re going to have that URL on the Health Literacy Out Loud web page too. Thanks for that. If listeners go to a webcast, what happens?
Lyla: They see the presenter and hear the presentations and the discussions. It’s like watching it on television.
Helen: Is it live?
Lyla: Yes, it is live.
Helen: It takes all day because your meetings take all day, right?
Lyla: That’s correct. You sign up for it just as you would register to attend the meeting. When you go to the web page, there are two signups. You can register to attend or to participate in the webcast.
Helen: What if someone doesn’t want to be tethered to their computer all day? Is there a way to get it later?
Lyla: Yes. Following the meetings, we publish the webcast on our roundtable web page. You can select which presentations you want to listen to. You don’t have to listen to the whole thing. You can also access the presenter’s slides from the roundtable web page.
Helen: That’s amazing. All of this is for free and available to everybody. We have your published discussion papers, workshops and webcasting. Over the years, sometimes I’ve had to pay for a book from the Institute of Medicine, such as To Err is Human. What was the one on health literacy? That one was amazing.
Lyla: It was Health Literacy: Prescription to End Confusion.
Helen: I actually have it on my bookshelf. It’s a printed-out book that I had to pay some money for. Is that still something that people can get or has that been changed and now you have these other resources?
Lyla: You can download all of the publications from IOM for free on the internet. If you want the hardback book, you still have to pay. Those are ordered from the National Academy Press.
We have printed copies of our workshop summaries. Those are distributed free to our reviewers, speakers and roundtable members. If people don’t want to download it but they want the nice, shiny, hardback cover, they would have to order it from the National Academy Press.
Helen: For my budget, printing it myself is great. I don’t need the bound cover. It is a wealth of material.
I met you because somewhere I got an email saying, “A meeting is coming up.” It seemed interesting enough that I went out of my way to go to the meeting. I am fascinated by these workshops.
It’s not only about the topics presented, which is often a lot of new information I hadn’t heard before, but even the conversations that happen around the periphery of the room where I’m sitting since I’m not a member. It’s an amazing collection of people there and real thought leaders in health literacy.
What would you like our listeners to know or do? We’re an amazing collection of people from across the US and around the world. We all somehow care about health communication. What would you like us to know or do?
Lyla: One of the things I find so exciting is that all the people who come and participate as speakers or attendees have this passion for health literacy that find tremendous. It really motivates us to do more.
We can learn about attributes of a health literate organization. We’ve now commissioned an organization to develop measures so that we can have some way to look at how we might objectively assess the health literacy of an organization.
We have a great meeting planned in 2014 on March 17. It’s going to look at discharge summaries, after-visit summaries, and how you really talk with patients about what they need to know as opposed all of this extraneous information that they’re going to forget.
Helen: I went to one you had on numbers and numeracy.
Lyla: Yes. We had a commissioned paper by Ellen Peters of Ohio State who did a wonderful job of talking about numeracy and bringing to light that it’s more than just numbers. It has concepts and implications for everyday living.
There are so many important numeracy issues facing individuals as they try to manage their health in terms of selecting an insurance policy or choosing a treatment. What does it really mean when it says, “This treatment option has a 5% greater risk than that one”? What are the important things to think about when you’re making choices? Of course, there are all of the numeracy skills that are needed in terms of taking your medication.
Helen: It was a whole day of that. There were presentations in 15-minute nuggets. My brain felt like it was bursting because I learned so much. It really renewed that passion for it.
I only go to about one or two workshops a year, but something else I get from them is that I find a lot of people to interview for these Health Literacy Out Loud podcasts. If I hear a really neat speaker or a great topic, I want to share that passion with the world.
When I look around at who’s on the roundtable, I’ve probably interviewed well over half of the people who are part of it. Your work is living on. It’s radiating out. I encourage listeners of Health Literacy Out Loud to get involved and to know about what a wonderful resource we have for health literacy.
Lyla: Thank you.
Helen: Lyla, thank you so much for doing all you do and for helping direct the IOM’s Roundtable on Health Literacy, moving it forward and making it available in some format for all of us. Thank you so much for being a guest on Health Literacy Out Loud.
Lyla: Thank you very much.
Helen: I learned so much from Lyla Hernandez about the Institute of Medicine’s Roundtable on Health Literacy. I’m so enthused and passionate about that resource, and I hope that you now are too.
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Did you like this podcast? Did you learn something new? If so, tell your colleagues and friends. Together, let’s let the whole world know why health literacy matters. Until next time, I’m Helen Osborne.