STATE HOUSE – The Special Legislative Study Commission to
Study the Topic of Health Literacy, chaired by Sen. Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist.
12, Middletown, Little Compton, Newport, Tiverton), issued its report tonight
at a meeting of the commission. Health literacy, according to the legislation (2016-S 2594)
which created the commission, is the degree to which individuals have the
capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and
services needed to make appropriate health decisions.
“When the health literacy commission was started, we set out
to determine a better way to increase health literacy to avoid costly measures
such as emergency room visits and extended hospitalizations for diseases and
conditions that could have been prevented or treated differently before such
extreme measures needed to be taken. The commission was dedicated in their hard
work studying Rhode Island’s health literacy. And while we found some troubling
facts regarding Rhode Islanders’ understanding of the healthcare system, we
also believe our recommendations can lead to a healthy Rhode Island that will
still deliver top-notch care while keeping costs down for patients,” said
According to research studies, people with limited health
literacy skills are more likely to skip important preventive measures, are more
likely to have chronic conditions, and are less able to manage these conditions
effectively. In addition, people with limited health literacy have shown a
higher rate of hospitalization and use of emergency services, resulting in
higher health care costs.
The commission found that a lack of health literacy among
the American population negatively impacts individual health and drives up
healthcare costs, with the problem being particularly acute for certain
sub-demographics. Also, improving health literacy at an early age has a direct
impact on health literacy later in life and a specific health literacy
curriculum is required to achieve proficiency.
The commission also found that healthcare providers must
have a strong education in health literacy and understand the consequences of
illiteracy to reduce its negative impact on health outcomes; cultural and
linguistic competence are essential in engaging and educating patients about
their healthcare; patient engagement is necessary when discussing policy
initiatives related to healthcare, health reform, and health literacy; a
significant proportion of adults in Rhode Island and nationwide have difficulty
understanding their health insurance plans; a failure to understand health
insurance plans negatively impacts an individual’s health and their decision making
abilities; and that Rhode Island’s readability requirement does not solve the
issue of health insurance illiteracy.
In response to the commission’s findings regarding health
literacy, the commission made several recommendations, including a plan to develop
a statewide toolkit aimed at assisting public and private schools, community
groups, and healthcare providers to support the current level of health
literacy among Rhode Islanders. The commission recommended to incorporate
health literacy into elementary and secondary education health standards
developed through a collaboration among community health organizations,
healthcare providers, health insurance providers, the RI Department of Health
(RIDOH), the RI Department of Education (RIDE), and other stakeholders.
The commission also recommended integration of health
literacy training into the curriculum for medical students and encouragement of
licensed professionals to utilize various training resources available at the
state and national level; creation of specific programs and strategies to
educate the most vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, individuals with
disabilities, and individuals suffering from mental illness; and ensuring that
consumer advocates are included in health reform efforts by establishing a
Consumer Advisory Board that is person-centered, culturally and linguistically
competent, disability sensitive, and addresses the care and delivery of
services through informed decision making and advocacy.