Healthy People 2020

21 03 2011

In 1979, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Healthy People program debuted in the form of a surgeon general’s report. Since then, every 10 years (starting in 1990), scientists meet to try and figure out what’s needed and what’s feasible for the good of public health. 

The updated Healthy People 2020 website has a full list of objectives, along with resources to help health departments and organizations achieve those objectives.

We spoke with Carter Blakey, Acting Deputy Director of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP), about how nongovernment organizations can get involved. “Health is very complex, there are lots of different factors,” Carter said. “It takes more than the federal government to change health.”

The Healthy People 2010 objectives were very ambitious, Carter admitted. All the goals rolled into achieving the objective of “eliminating disparities. The goals were set to be better than the best communities in the country.”

Carter said that some goals were set 1,000% above the national average. Some groups were very motivated by this and others were very discouraged because they thought the goals were impossible.

The 2020 goals are more realistic with a little bit of a stretch. “It will be interesting to see if we are able to meet more of our goals. Moving the needle takes a long time, many years.”

It’s up to States and organizations to tackle the objectives and make a real impact in their communities. While States are not required to participate in the Healthy People program, many do, and have a dedicated State Coordinator to help organize activity.

There is funding available for States, Territories, and Tribes that have an innovative plan to use Healthy People 2020 to improve a community’s health. The Healthy People Action Project proposals are due on April 1, 2011.

Beyond that specific grant, organizations can use the Healthy People benchmarks as data to support applications for grants or other funding opportunities by comparing their communities to the national average.

What goals are you most interested in tackling in the next decade? Where do you see the need to collaborate most to achieve these goals? We’d love to hear from you in our comments.





Improving Health Literacy

21 06 2010

Nearly 9 out of 10 adults have problems understanding and using basic health information.

Insufficient health literacy (a person’s ability to understand health information) is not limited to a select group.  It cuts across all cultures, levels of education and income, and all age groups.

We need to be educated to improve our health literacy, so that we can make optimal health-related choices.

Toward this end, the Department of Health and Human Services, led by Howard K. Koh, M.D., M.P.H., Assistant Secretary for Health, has developed the National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy.

The plan does a good job of outlining the barriers to health literacy, identifying goals, and providing some steps to reach those goals:

  • Develop and disseminate health and safety information that is accurate, accessible, and actionable
  • Promote changes in the health care system that improve health information, communication, informed decisionmaking, and access to health services
  • Incorporate accurate, standards-based, and developmentally appropriate health and science information and curricula in childcare and education through the university level
  • Support and expand local efforts to provide adult education, English language instruction, and culturally and linguistically appropriate health information services in the community
  • Build partnerships, develop guidance, and change policies
  • Increase basic research and the development, implementation, and evaluation of practices and interventions to improve health literacy
  • Increase the dissemination and use of evidence-based health literacy practices and interventions

The American Medical Association (AMA) Foundation has done a lot of work over the years toward improving health literacy, providing helpful tips and tools to physicians to improve communication and understanding between patients and providers.

In fact, lots of groups are working on health literacy.  If you search the term on the Internet, you’ll get half a million results or more.

If so many people are working on it, why is it still a problem?

It’s a tough nut to crack. Low literacy is a key factor in non-compliance with healthcare recommendations. For example, if the directions for taking medication are complicated, or the instructions for recovery from surgery are hard to understand, chances are patients will be reluctant to ask for help in deciphering the language and therefore they will not be able to follow the directions. In other words, they become non-compliant.

Unfortunately, many healthcare professionals don’t always know why a patient is not responding to treatment.  They may not know that there’s a non-compliance issue and that it’s connected to low health literacy.

Low health literacy plays a significant role in:

For the health of our population, we as educators need to become better at finding ways to improve health literacy. Perhaps Dr. Koh’s plan will blaze some trails.

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