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October 10, 2002


Emory 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 now."

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.

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