Health literacy refers to how people find, understand and use health information in order to benefit their health. People with low levels of health literacy are at higher risk of poor health behaviours and health outcomes. In Australia, 60% of adults have a low level of health literacy, which means they may not be able to effectively make informed decisions about their health.
In addition to an individual’s health literacy, there is also environmental health literacy, which refers to the infrastructure, policies, processes, materials, people and relationships which make up the health system. The health literacy environment has an impact on the way people experience the health system and receive health information. One element of this is organisational health literacy, referring to the degree to which organisations implement strategies that make it easier for community members to understand health information, navigate organisational systems, engage in the health care process and manage their health.
A health literacy needs assessment implemented in the Melbourne’s Eastern Metropolitan Region (EMR) identified that Inner East Primary Care Partnership (IEPCP) partner organisations were looking for ways to improve their organisational health literacy, in order to promote service access and equity for their communities.
What did we do?
IEPCP, in partnership with Outer East Primary Care Partnership, developed an organisational health literacy course, which was delivered by the Centre for Culture, Ethnicity and Health and aimed to support health and community services implement health literacy interventions within their organisations.
The course consisted of four full-day workshops, delivered over eight months, during which participants were supported to develop and deliver two internal health literacy projects. The purpose of the projects was to integrate health literacy practices across the organisation and embed what was learned to create sustainable change. They included initiatives such as embedding health literacy within organisational plans, including a health literacy module in staff orientation and training, and development of health literacy policies.
The final session invited General Managers to attend, to enable them to understand the outcomes from the course, and to encourage high level buy in to enable organisational change.
Benefits reported by participating organisations included:
- Increased organisational awareness and understanding of health literacy
- Improved communication within their organisations
- Progression of health literacy action within organisations
- Health literacy practice embedded into organisational policies and procedures
- Strengthened partnerships across the EMR
How did the PCPs contribute to this success?
The two PCPs supported the engagement of regional partners in the training by partially funding training costs, communicating with partner organisations to support their activity over the duration of their projects, and developing videos promoting the health literacy work of partners. The PCPs also provided support for course participants after their training had finished through development of the HELPER newsletter, distributed bi-monthly to over 110 recipients and containing news and resources on health literacy, as well as local opportunities and updates. PCPs also positioned themselves as “go-to” organisations for health literacy, and were available to provide support to organisations with health literacy initiatives underway.