As Pennsylvania celebrates Health Literacy Month in October, officials representing the state's hospitals and libraries are assessing the impact of a joint health literacy initiative, and looking to expand such efforts.
Engage for Health is a joint venture of the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Library Association that aims to boost patient engagement in their care through education.
"The HAP board and our membership made a public commitment in 2013 to strengthen our focus on consumer needs in health care," says Andy Carter, president and CEO of HAP. "Libraries seemed like a natural partner, given their presence in communities as a place where people go to inform themselves," Carter says.
Much of the partnerships's work entails getting people to be less passive about their care. Deborah Clark, R.N., trauma program coordinator at Geisinger Community Medical Center in Scranton, Pa., says she led an Engage for Health presentation to attendees in Moscow, Pa., about how to get ready for a visit to their physicians. Things like preparing questions to ask the doctor and taking a family member with them are simple steps that can drive results. "The time to ask a lot of questions about your health is before you become acutely ill," Clark says of her North Pocono Public Library event.
Susan Jeffery, director of the library, says attendees received notepads from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality that they could use to write down questions for their doctors. "Our evaluations indicated that once people came to the program, they saw the value in it," Jeffery says.
The joint effort was launched in 2013 when the hospital association joined its library counterpart's PA Forward initiative, which supports libraries becoming community centers of information in areas such as health literacy. Two years later, the state library association received a grant from the National Network of Libraries of Medicine to fund a pilot Engage for Health program at 18 libraries around the state. PaLA is scheduled to share its findings on the pilot program at its annual conference Oct. 16–19.
Carter says HAP will continue to foster connections between hospitals and libraries, as well as other community partners such as schools and nutrition programs. "We have to have community partners, because it's way too complex a task for organizations that are more accustomed to encounters within their own four walls."
Others are giving it a try as well. The New York Library Association is scheduled to include Engage for Health as a sample health literacy program during its annual conference in November.
Brandi Hunter-Davenport, project manager of PaLA's PA Forward program, says she thinks Engage for Health "is one of those things that's got legs. I think there's more opportunity to grow it here before it becomes something larger."