Internist Selected To Serve on IOM Committee on Health Literacy
Ruth M. Parker,
M.D., associate professor of medicine at the Emory University School
of Medicine and internist at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, has
been selected for the Institute of Medicine's Committee on Health Literacy,
a group composed of expert physicians and other health care professionals
from across the country. As a committee member, Dr. Parker will help
examine the root problems that underlie health illiteracy, a lack of
understanding that prevents many people from identifying and receiving
appropriate health care when they need it.
The 12-member IOM committee
will meet five times over the course of 21 months, and has been charged
with identifying the obstacles to creating a health literate public;
assessing the approaches that have been attempted to increase health
literacy both in the United States and abroad; and identifying goals
for health literacy efforts and suggesting approaches to overcome the
obstacles to health literacy.
"I am honored to be a part
of this committee that is attempting to address public health literacy
in America," Dr. Parker said.
By definition, health literacy
is the ability of individuals to obtain, process, and understand health
information and services in order to make appropriate health decisions.
It includes the abstract abilities of comprehending medical information,
understanding risks, recognizing biases in information from the press
or television, understanding insurance benefits, and knowing how to
navigate an increasingly complex health system.
According to the National
Academies for the Institute of Medicine, Board of Neuroscience and Behavioral
Health, problems with health literacy are extensive. Data from a large
study of health literacy in public hospital settings, including Grady
Memorial Hospital, showed that 42 percent of patients were unable to
understand directions about taking medication on an empty stomach, 26
percent could not understand information on their appointment slip,
43 percent could not understand the Medicaid application, and 60 percent
could not understand the informed consent form.
"The world of medicine and
health care is increasingly complex," Dr. Parker said. "It has gotten
pretty hard to be a patient in America, and health literacy really is
about all the gaps that exist between what we as providers assume patients
can do and what they really can do in this complex world of health care
Dr. Parker, a renowned health
literacy expert, has focused extensively on healthcare issues of underserved
populations. Most notably, she has chaired the Expert Panel on Health
Literacy, Council of Scientific Affairs, for the American Medical Association
that authored a frequently cited JAMA white paper on health literacy.
She co-authored the National Library of Medicine Complete Bibliographies
of Medicine on Health Literacy, and is chair of the Steering Committee
for the AMA Foundation Signature Program: Partnership in Health Improving
the Patient-Physician Relationship Through Health Literacy.
Dr. Parker currently serves
on the Health Literacy Advisory Committee for the Georgia Department
of Technical and Adult Education. In 2001, Dr. Parker received the Silver
Achievement Award for Women in Medicine by the American Association
for Medical Colleges.