Helen Osborne: Welcome to Health Literacy Out Loud. I’m Helen Osborne, President of Health Literacy Consulting, founder of Health Literacy Month and author of the book Health Literacy from A to Z: Practical Ways to Communicate Your Health Message. I also produce and host this podcast series, Health Literacy Out Loud.
Today, I’m talking with Dr. Aisha Langford, who is an assistant professor of population health at NYU Langone Health in New York City. Her research interests include health communication and medical decision-making in certain chronic health conditions.
Prior to this work in academic research, Aisha held professional roles in public relations, adult literacy and community outreach. She is an active member of several professional societies and serves as an associate editor for two journals, Clinical Trials and the other journal is Patient Education and Counseling.
Aisha and I met a while ago when she asked if I might consider being part of a research grant proposal she was writing. I was happy to say yes. That initial conversation has led to many more, including about the intersection of academic research, getting published and health literacy.
Aisha and I both thought this was a worthy topic to discuss on Health Literacy Out Loud.
Dr. Aisha Langford: Thank you, Helen. I’m glad to be here.
Helen Osborne: You write, you research, you share news about health literacy and communication. Why is it important for you and others to do so?
Dr. Aisha Langford: It’s important to share our research, but also for those who are in the field or practitioners in the world, it’s also important to share lessons learned.
Even if you’re not a researcher in an academic medical setting like I am, practitioners are doing really important work in the field. I think publication, doing interviews and sharing tips with other practitioners is also an important way to help other people advance this important work of health literacy.
Helen Osborne: I agree with you in concept. Absolutely, let’s get the word out there.
I have met so many people doing so much wonderful work. But there seems to be divergent paths between that long involved process of getting something in a peer-reviewed journal that I don’t know how many people read, versus getting something in a different kind of publication that perhaps more people read. Our paths seem to diverge, and the peer review process takes a very long time.
I know you know well that research/academic world. But our listeners, probably the majority of them are like me. We just want to communicate the how-tos of doing something better today than yesterday. What recommendations do you have for us?
Dr. Aisha Langford: I think platforms like yours, Health Literacy Out Loud, are a great way to do that. There are also professional meetings that health literacy experts and practitioners go to.
For example, when I was an adult literacy specialist in California, I would share at professional conferences with other practitioners. That’s another way that’s not academic writing or peer review.
Helen Osborne: At conferences, that’s fine. Someone did a project and it went really well. Parts of it went really well and other parts they learned from. That’s kind of in that practice sphere. But conferences are limited to the number of people who can attend. What are other ways or platforms to get that message out?
Dr. Aisha Langford: There are listservs. As you know, there are many health literacy listservs where practitioners post questions and also tips.
Helen Osborne: I don’t know why we came up with that name. It seems odd to me. But it’s really an online discussion group, right?
Dr. Aisha Langford: Yes, an online discussion group. I think that’s one way. Then depending on where the health literacy experts are located, there may be radio opportunities or consumer opportunities where they’re able to share their message with other practitioners. That doesn’t have to go necessarily through a peer-reviewed process.
Helen Osborne: You talked about professional meetings of like-minded colleagues, it sounds like. Listservs are those discussion boards where we do that online. Radio, like podcasts, is all audio in there. That’s an effective way to get out our message.
You’ve done both sides of this, Aisha. Just compare the peer-reviewed professional journal process to one of these methods you’re talking about.
Dr. Aisha Langford: The biggest difference is time. When I send papers or manuscripts through a peer-reviewed process, it could take several weeks or months. In some instances, it’s taken about a year for me to get something published in an academic journal.
Whereas if I posted something to a wonderful online listserv or discussion board, I might get a response within a day or two. People can get my lessons learned very quickly.
If someone came on your show, Health Literacy Out Loud, I’m not quite sure the timeframe for production, but I’m sure it’s much . . .
Helen Osborne: It’s actually a few months. I also just want to tell you and listeners that, because people may not know.
I meet with guests usually a few months ahead of time. We kind of plan what we’re going to talk about, but it’s not scripted, as everyone can hear as they’re listening to this.
But I also tell guests, as I told you, Aisha, that our conversations are what I consider evergreen. They will be available always, so it’s not about late breaking news.
Dr. Aisha Langford: Exactly. One of the benefits and brilliancy of your podcast is that it can be shared with others because you have a website. People can listen to it on the app.
It’s really nice because it is evergreen, but it also is very accessible to other practitioners in the field, whereas if, for example, I publish something in an academic journal, often if people don’t have an institutional membership to that journal or an active library service, they may have to pay to read my publication later.
Health Literacy Out Loud is free, it’s available to the public and people can access it any time. The quickness in being able to share really important information is a lot better with your format versus having to wait to go through a peer-reviewed process, which may literally take several months or, in some cases, over a year.
Helen Osborne: Thank you for talking about that and highlighting it. Of course, I’m a fan of what I do.
I’m so concerned when I see a great title for a research article that is peer reviewed. I might get that through a Google alert and hear about it. All of a sudden, I face a paywall. I don’t want to pay that money, and I do not have access to all the academic libraries to get it. There’s a big divergence there. Oh my goodness.
From your perspective having done both, why would someone go through that rigorous process that you go through for the academic journals?
Dr. Aisha Langford: As a researcher, one of the many ways that I’m evaluated with regard to my impact and the types of research I do is my number of publications in peer-reviewed journals. I have a professional reason to do that.
Maybe a practitioner in the field who’s working, say, in a library or in a health literacy consulting group, they may not have that same need in terms of evaluation and impact. But I do it because it’s one of the metrics for which I’m evaluated as a researcher in the field.
Helen Osborne: Oh, okay. Our motivation is different.
Dr. Aisha Langford: Yes. Absolutely.
Helen Osborne: You’ve been on the other side. You were a literacy practitioner in that way. What would our motivation be to get the word out more immediately?
Dr. Aisha Langford: When I was an adult literacy practitioner, I think the benefit of getting tips and lessons learned out quickly is so that people don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
When I first started as an adult literacy specialist through a library system in California, I wanted to know, “What are other people doing? Are our strategies really the most effective? Are people doing novel and interesting things in other libraries in California or maybe in New York or in the middle of the country?”
It’s being able to have informal conversations. Let’s not forget we can also pick up the phone and call someone, or do an email.
But being able to have access to lessons learned in the field, I think, is really helpful so that we can all be more efficient and not reinvent the wheel, especially if someone has already done something quite helpful and impactful, say, a year or five years before us.
It really just helps us be more time efficient and serve our clients better.
Helen Osborne: Thank you for saying that and saying that so clearly. I’m cheering you on. That’s one reason I like you so much. I totally agree with you.
The drawback, I think and I wonder, is about credibility of what we have to say. Peer review is a very rigorous process. You’ve got the numbers. You’ve got external people checking your facts in there.
A person like me who wants to just get information out more quickly, how can others know that what we’re saying has some credibility and validity?
Dr. Aisha Langford: I think one thing to remind everyone is that you do have good experience and credentials behind your name. I think when you share information in whatever platforms you do, it’s really important to say, “I’m Helen Osborne. I’ve had this many years as a health literacy expert,” and maybe share some of your credentials. I think that’s one way to build credibility.
Then also, I think with any professional group or person, have your affiliation. You might be a Health Literacy Expert at XYZ Library or organization. I think attaching your affiliation is also important to build credibility.
Helen Osborne: Talking about you, now you’re this professor at this esteemed medical facility. Part of the credibility to me and why I engage with you so much is your background in literacy.
Dr. Aisha Langford: Thank you.
Helen Osborne: It’s not just the fancy-schmancy titles that we have today, but it’s also our life experiences that we bring.
Dr. Aisha Langford: Right. If I could just piggyback on that, when I would work with a lot of community organizations for my research, I think it was important to them to hear that I was an adult literacy specialist and worked in libraries.
It was also maybe equally important for them to know that before I became a full-time researcher, I was a community outreach director. I worked with a lot of churches, community groups and senior centers in the community as part of my job.
For many of the community groups, that part was more important because they wanted to know that I’ve been outside of my office. I’ve been outside of the university in real communities.
I think your point is that different groups of people and different organizations value different types of experiences in different ways.
Helen Osborne: Thank you. We really bring the humanity, not just the how-to, the facts or the data about what we’re communicating.
As far as getting data, I talked about my world without easy access to a medical library. Those of us who want to make our point but substantiate it with some up-to-date research, what are some ways we can find some of that information to help support our key message?
Dr. Aisha Langford: There are some nationally representative data that are free and available to the public. One data set that I use quite often is the Health Information National Trends Survey, or HINTS.
Helen Osborne: We’ll have that link on your website, for sure. Tell us more about it.
Dr. Aisha Langford: It is a data set that’s run by the National Cancer Institute. Every couple of years, they survey the American public about their thoughts, beliefs and behaviors related to cancer prevention and control. But there are also questions that are closely related to health literacy and health information seeking. The website is actually pretty easy to navigate.
Helen Osborne: What is it?
Dr. Aisha Langford: It’s HINTS.cancer.gov.
Helen Osborne: That’s available to everybody and it’s for free?
Dr. Aisha Langford: That’s available to everybody, yes. If you were interested, for example, in how many Americans say they have difficulty understanding cancer information or how many people text or communicate with their doctor through the patient portal, you can find information like that on the website and download figures. You don’t necessarily need to have a Ph.D. or a lot of years in academia to understand and use some of that information.
Then there are also other national data sets or national surveys. For example, the Pew Research Center. Depending on what you’re interested in, they have done past surveys related to health literacy and health information seeking of the American public. There’s also information about how people use the internet and how people use technology.
That may be of interest to some health literacy experts depending on, say, what type of project they’re going to do. Maybe they’re going to try to use technology or smartphones to help reduce some of the gaps in access to finding good health information online, so having some of those statistics may be helpful.
Again, those are free and they have reports that they publish every so often, every few months, and that could be helpful as well.
Helen Osborne: This is great, Aisha. What I’m hearing from you is you really span several worlds. You do the academic, you’ve done the practical, the everyday work of what we do in health literacy, and you’re also involved as not only an author but an editor of journals.
For looking ahead or advice to give listeners of Health Literacy Out Loud who come from all ilks, all professions, and I think what we have in common most of all is we want to help others communicate better today than yesterday, what takeaway message would you want for us to find that sweet spot in communicating our messages?
Dr. Aisha Langford: I would say that everybody has a message, lessons learned and valuable contributions to share with others in the field, practitioners and researchers.
Just like I think researchers need to listen to community members, I think publication is also a way for community members and health literacy experts maybe to marry some of the information that we find in the lab and in research.
I think everybody’s voice has a place in the field and is important in different ways.
Helen Osborne: I love what you just said. Everybody’s voice has a place. Thank you so much for sharing your voice literally and in thoughts, concepts and recommendations. Thank you for all you do and for sharing it with us on Health Literacy Out Loud.
Dr. Aisha Langford: Thank you. I’m delighted to have spent this time with you.
Helen Osborne: As we just heard from Aisha Langford, it is important not only to communicate clearly with our audiences, but also to communicate lessons learned with our peers and colleagues so they can move forward on all we do for health literacy. But doing all this is not always easy.
For help clearly communicating your health message, please take a look at my book, Health Literacy from A to Z.
New Health Literacy Out Loud interviews come out every few weeks. You can get them all for free by subscribing at www.HealthLiteracyOutLoud.com, or whatever app you use to get your podcasts.
Please help spread the word about Health Literacy Out Loud. Together, let’s tell the whole world why health literacy matters.
Until next time, I’m Helen Osborne.