Saturday, April 16, 2011

Day 4 - Ottawa

Yesterday met with Health Canada (the federal health body) and the Canada Public Health Association; a non-government body for public health and a significant driver behind health literacy in this country. In fact, the document A vision for health literacy in Canada - (, produced by the CPHA, is a seminal one for health literacy in this country.
Susanne from Health Canada works in the equivalent of our TGA and is mostly concerned (of course) with communicating risk - accessible public health messaging - which is a slightly different demand to assisted delivery of health info. Public health messaging has to attract the public all on its own. I also met with Jamie from Heath Canada's Consumer Information Bureau who's role it is to utilise a range of media for communications. It was interesting though, the parallels between a massive, federal government department and our own comparatively small hospital. Getting buy in from colleagues on the significance of health literacy and the potential impact of deliberate health literacy strategies. Even plain language - Susanne's favourite example adverse reaction versus side effect - can be a challenge. The other issue that came up was pharmaceuticals - medicine labels. This will be worth watching into the future and Canada starts to move towards guidelines.
Greg from the Canada Public Health Association was able to take me through where HL is at in Canada as well as some background info. The Canadians made the link between literacy and health back in the 80s and the notion of heath literacy began to develop in the 90s with impetus from the National Literacy and Health Program established in the early 90's. But CPHAs Expert Panel on Health Literacy which led to the Vision for a Health Literate Canada was a big driver. I have added the CPHAs website because they have a great health literacy portal!! Greg says health literacy is a concept that is still developing traction in Canada, there a pockets of great work, including work that is not necessary recognised or named health literacy, but the links an connections are still being made. We talked a bit about the language of health literacy, the problem - which also comes out of the difficulty of defining health literacy - means that the work is not being captured or measured in HL terms.
We teleconferenced with the Health Council of Canada - an independent org that was setup by the Provincial premiers - or First Ministers as they are called here - to report to the public on the state of health care. The discussion we had was around the intersection between self-managed care and health literacy and programs that might reflect that. Of course one cannot self manage care without health literacy and in many ways health literacy initiatives - to support access, understanding, usability and evaluation have an ultimate goal of promoting self care. More later.

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