The Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice of the Institute of Medicine established the Roundtable on Health Literacy to foster dialogue and discussion to advance the field of health literacy and to improve the translation of research findings to health care, education, and policy. The roundtable strives to enhance mutual understanding of health literacy among the health community and the general public, and to provide a mechanism that fosters collaboration among stakeholders. To accomplish its purpose, the roundtable brings together leaders from academia, industry, government, foundations, and associations as well as representatives of patients and consumers who have an interest and role in improving health literacy. It also commissions papers and conducts workshops to inform its meetings.
Although health literacy is commonly defined as an individual trait, it does not depend on the skills of individuals alone. Health literacy is the product of the interaction between individuals’ capacities and the health literacy-related demands and complexities of the health care system. Specifically, the ability to understand, evaluate, and use numbers is important to making informed health care choices.
1 The planning committee’s role was limited to planning the workshop, and the workshop summary has been prepared by the workshop rapporteur as a factual summary of what occurred at the workshop. Statements, recommendations, and opinions expressed are those of individual presenters and participants, and are not necessarily endorsed or verified by the Institute of Medicine, and they should not be construed as reflecting any group consensus.
The Roundtable on Health Literacy commissioned a paper on numeracy skills that addressed the following questions:
- What does research show about people’s numeracy skill levels?
- What kinds of numeracy skills are needed to select a health plan, choose treatments, and understand medication instructions?
- What do we know about how providers should communicate with those with low numeracy skills?
On July 18, 2013, the roundtable conducted a workshop that featured the presentation of the commissioned paper by its authors (see Appendix A for the commissioned paper). Other presenters were invited to speak on a number of topics related to numeracy, including the effects of ill health on cognitive capacity, issues with communication of health information to the public, and communicating numeric information for decision making. The workshop was organized into four panels of speakers, each followed by a brief discussion. The following chapters of the workshop summary are organized by panel presentations. The moderator of the workshop was roundtable member Paul Schyve.
The workshop (see Appendix B for the agenda) was organized by an independent planning committee in accordance with the procedures of the National Academy of Sciences. The planning committee members were Andrea Apter, Susan Pisano, Lynn Quincy, Rima Rudd, Steve Rush, and Winston Wong. The role of the workshop planning committee was limited to planning the workshop. Unlike a consensus report, a workshop summary may not contain conclusions and recommendations, except as expressed by and attributed to individual presenters and participants. Therefore, this summary has been prepared by the workshop rapporteur as a factual summary of what occurred at the workshop.