Health Literacy Collaborative
Following a study of why access fails to improve all medical outcomes, the Medical Society of Milwaukee County formed a collaborative on health literacy to convene, catalog, and catalyze activities that expand a person's understanding of health information and how to use it. Objectives of the Collaborative include:
- Increase awareness and support of existing health literacy resources and community efforts
- Identify gaps in existing efforts to promote healthy behaviors, and work to eliminate those gaps by increasing awareness of the benefits of healthy behaviors
- Promote cultural competency in health literacy efforts
Members of the Collaborative have initiated an effort alongside the Milwaukee Lifecourse Initiative for Healthy Families (LIHF) to address the disproportionately high rates of infant mortality among African Americans in Milwaukee County. A work group of interested individuals and agencies is currently working to address infant mortality through the health literacy of fathers. The effort is three-fold:
- Engage and train health professionals (medical and nursing) students to provide fathers with important culturally appropriate and literacy sensitive information, and to receive evaluations from fathers on the quality of that communication.
- Support ongoing community father mentoring with focus group assessments and structured evaluations of mentoring interventions.
- Produce community based father-centric information sensitive to cultural and literacy needs of African American fathers.
Health literacy is the ability to understand and use information to improve health. Despite its importance, there are few educational opportunities to practice the bi-directional learning that occurs in health literacy. Improving the health literacy of fathers, who then engage to reduce the life course stressors, is an identified avenue for reducing infant mortality disparities. Under this plan, professional students would have four or more one-hour sessions to communicate predetermined health messages to prospective fathers. The frequency of father engagement (attending prenatal appointments, the delivery, first year pediatric appointments) would serve to measure the benefit of increased health literacy. Students would benefit from post session reviews by fathers and would be scored on teaching techniques using standard interview assessment tools.
Empowering father initiated mentoring would begin with engaging existent leaders. Focus groups of existing fathers would e used to identify information needed before birth and beyond. Creating community-based father to father-to-be interactions to convey these messages would be measured in their success by father engagement, as previously defined. Father engagement, thus, serves as a measure of literacy success.
Ongoing communication of healthy behaviors for women in pregnancy and during the first year of life is common and some examples of materials that are culturally and literacy sensitive have been produced. Similar materials aimed at fathers are rare. The third focus would be to develop culturally and literacy sensitive communications materials based on focus group results.
Focus groups will be designed to solicit suggestions for effective messages, methods and locations for dissemination. Five focus groups with logistical and meeting support are planned. Facilitators who are currently engaged in promoting fathers roles in pregnancy and the first year will be recruited to lead discussions. The goal of the focus groups will be to have men identify the ten most important things that fathers need to know to support mothers. A group meeting of all involved fathers will be used to review and share the results and to establish messages prior to developing the final plan. These "ten important points" will be part of the mentoring interaction and created into durable materials for fathers to use at home. The focus groups will help determine the format and the best manner in which to communicate the points.
Partners in this effort include the Medical Society of Milwaukee County and members of its Health Literacy Collaborative, The Planning Council for Health and Human Services, which served as the lead convener for the planning phase of the Milwaukee LIHF Collaborative, various community organizations including the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin and the Milwaukee Fatherhood Initiative, and medical and educational institutions including the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the Medical College of Wisconsin and St. Joseph Women's Outpatient Center.
This is a two-year project, beginning in Spring 2012, in which the first year centers on the focus groups and communications planning, followed by a second year that involves the professional student/father and father/future father communications work followed by outcomes assessment.