The impact of literacy on the health and well-being of individuals and the public as a whole was discussed recently during the latest Grand Rounds at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar (WCM-Q).

Associate Librarian and Director of the Distributed eLibrary at WCM-Q, Jamie Gray, explained the term ‘health literacy’ and discussed how literacy in information and science can intersect with health literacy affecting personal health choices and therefore health and well-being.

Jamie Gray

Gray also examined the influence of social determinants on information, science and health literacy, and summarised a variety of strategies for enhancing domain literacies at the level of the individual and of the population, with a view to improving health outcomes.

The presentation titled, Why Literacy Matters: How Information, Science, and Health Literacy Impact Individuals and Public Health, was broadcast as a live webinar.

Being able to engage with our health requires a certain level of literacy specialised to the health domain, according to Gray.

When we talk about someone being health literate, it means that they have a certain level of understanding and participation in the promotion of their well-being. So, health literacy is a collection of knowledge, skills and actions that individuals and communities must undertake to ensure a community’s and person’s overall well-being.

Gray explained that the unusual circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic revealed much about how various literacies connect and their impact.

She said that in the case of COVID-19, we were living in this really unprecedented experience of witnessing both the scientific discovery process happening in real time, and its very tangible impacts on how we needed to conduct ourselves in everyday life.

We can see how a gap in both the understanding and communication of the scientific process, coupled with deep politicization and fears about the economy over much of the United States, can translate into mistrust of official health messages and refusal to comply with public health measures like masking.

Gray noted that numerous studies have shown literacy regarding scientific concepts and processes empowers individuals to make informed personal decisions, participate in civic and cultural life, and facilitate economic activity. Without scientific and information literacy, individuals can have difficulty assessing whether a piece of science is reliable, trustworthy or appropriate for their use. In some circumstances, an anti-science mindset can become a part of a shared identity, she added.

Gray also highlighted a 2016 research in Qatar by authors from WCM-Q who found that more than 70% of people in the study reported searching for health information online; and 37% reported that they also rely on friends and family for health information. As such, the accuracy and quality of the information available and the ability of individuals to evaluate the information is likely to have a profound impact on the community, as it can be readily distributed among multigenerational family members and social groupings.

In conclusion, Gray advocated for healthcare and social policies and practices that promote health and scientific literacy which build infrastructure that supports the distribution of reliable and accessible health information.

The lecture was accredited by the Ministry of Public Health Department of Healthcare Professions – Accreditation Section and by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME).


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