The past two decades of research in health literacy have done much to raise awareness about the problems associated with low health literacy. Health literacy is defined as “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions (Ratzan and Parker, 2000). Nearly 9 out of 10 adults have difficulty using everyday health information that is available in health care facilities, retail outlets, media, and communities (ODPHP, 2010). The impact of low health literacy disproportionately affects lower socioeconomic and minority groups (Kutner et al, 2006). With knowledge of the effect of low health literacy, what does research say can be done to improve health literacy? Do interventions exist—aimed at either the consumer and patient or the healthcare system—that have been tested and shown to be effective? What research is needed to change the state of health literacy in the United States?
The Institute of Medicine Roundtable on Health Literacy focuses on building partnerships to move the field of health literacy forward by translating research findings into practical strategies for implementation. The roundtable serves to educate the public, press, and policy makers regarding issues of health literacy. The roundtable sponsors workshops for members and the public to discuss approaches to resolve key challenges in the field. A planning group designed a workshop to explore areas for research in health literacy, including the relationship of health literacy to health disparities and information technology applications. The role of the workshop planning committee was limited to planning
the workshop. Unlike a consensus committee report, a workshop summary may not contain conclusions and recommendations. Therefore, this summary has been prepared by the workshop rapporteur as a factual summary of what occurred at the workshop.
The workshop was moderated by George Isham. It began with a presentation about the first annual Health Literacy Annual Research Conference (HARC), held in October 2009. Discussion focused on two of the recurring themes of the HARC meeting: the integration of research on health literacy and health disparities; and the role of information technology and health literacy research. For the workshop summarized in this report, a panel was convened to address each of the two themes described above. The third workshop panel focused on professional development in health literacy research. In the fourth panel, leaders of three government agencies offered the first public presentation of the new National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy. The final workshop panel addressed the role of health literacy research in the National Action Plan. The workshop ended with a discussion of lessons learned from the workshop.