Center for HOPES targets health literacy with new partnership

The new collaboration aims to bridge gaps between providers and patients

Kristen Mitchell
Katie Kenney, M. Ella Lewie and Eris Seiber

A new Ohio State University College of Public Health collaboration aims to assess and address health literacy gaps that negatively impact health equity and create barriers for patients navigating the health care system. 

The partnership brings together the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Evaluation Studies (HOPES), Humana Inc., a health insurance provider funding the project, and Grapevine Health, a media company that creates plainspoken health messaging. The project team will develop and evaluate tools such as video-based interventions for provider training and translation toolkits with suggested word substitutions — for example, encouraging providers to say something could “cause cancer” instead of “is carcinogenic.” These assets will help bridge the gaps between patients and providers, said Anne Trinh, director of programs and strategic initiatives for the Center for Hopes.

While many believe health literacy is the responsibility of individuals and their families, more success can be achieved if organizations involved in the health care system take more accountability to address the issue, she said.

Anne Trinh and Saira Nawaz
Anne Trinh and Saira Nawaz.

Low health literacy is prevalent among many U.S. populations, including older adults, racial and ethnic minorities, and non-native English speakers. Health care and social service providers should assume everyone they interact with has limited health literacy, Trinh said.

“When you are part of the health care system, you are already stressed out. You’re not feeling your best, and then within the American health care system, there is a huge time burden that can translate into financial burdens for people,” Trinh said. “To navigate not only the health care system but the insurance system is a huge barrier for health equity and health outcomes.”

The CPH Center for HOPES team includes Trinh; Saira Nawaz, research assistant professor and director of the center’s health services research; Katie Kenney, researcher and dissemination specialist; and M. Ella Lewie, evaluation associate. They will provide a scientific foundation for the work, co-develop an evaluation plan and track outcomes throughout the year-long project.

This partnership has timely, practical implications for populations in Ohio and beyond, Trinh said. The Ohio Department of Medicaid selected Humana to deliver health care coverage to the state’s beneficiaries last year.

Eric Seiber, director of the Center for HOPES, said this project aligns with the center’s focus on community engagement around health equity and, more broadly, the field of public health’s need to embrace new partners willing to work on complex issues. 

“We have to look to broaden the coalition. We can’t just work with the people who are traditional partners,” he said. “It’s all about how we can move forward together, even if we’re not going to be in agreement on everything. It's how we make progress.”

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