Q2 2018 Newsletter - A Dialogue Regarding Health Literacy

With Thao Tran (HIMSS SoCal Marketing And Communication Committee Member) and Tim Jones (HIMSS SoCal Chapter Past President and CEO of Health Nuts Media)

Thao: How do you describe your leadership that led HIMSS SoCal to earn Chapter of the Year Award at HIMSS17 for the work done during 2016-2017?

Tim: Quite honestly I can't take credit for our Chapter of the Year Award at HIMSS17. Even though the award was given at the gala banquet in 2017, the award reflects the Chapter's activity for the previous year. Since Sri was President, we really have him to thank for it!

Thao: Patients have access to mobile devices, tablets, and computers yet the national health literacy is still low. According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, 9 out of 10 do not have the skills to manage their health and practice prevention. What do you think is wrong and how can we improve the national health literacy level?

Tim:  There is a "long" answer to this, but I don't think we have space in our newsletter. So I'll give you my condensed version:

I attended the IHA Health Literacy Conference in 2013 where Dr. Richard Carmona was giving the keynote address. Dr. Carmona was the 17th Surgeon General of the United States (2002-2006. As President of Canyon Ranch Institute he "spent 11 years preaching the gospel that health literacy involves cultural competency, and both are integral, not ancillary, to public health."  In his address, he spoke about his time as a medic in Vietnam and told the story of being sent to a remote village where a young girl was ill. The elders of the village were protective, and he spent a great deal of time sitting and talking to them before he was allowed to see the patient.  

When he finally gained their confidence, they brought the young girl in and he could see right away that she was suffering from a rash. He had some pills in his kit which he gave to them, and told them he'd be back in a couple of weeks to check on her progress. When he returned, the girl's rash had indeed gone away and the villagers were so grateful they presented him with a present: a small, ornately carved wooden box. When he opened the box, he found all the pills he had given to them, which had been strung into a necklace. The villagers explained that the pills had indeed worked -- by warding off the evil spirits that had caused the rash.

In that moment, Dr. Carmona knew he had failed his patient. By assuming the villagers knew what the pills were and how to administer them, he had failed to assess their health literacy and opened the door for misunderstanding and error. Dr. Carmona stressed to the providers in the room that this same thing is happening every day in the American health system.  If most students are failing a class, you can't just assume they're bad students -- you have to look at the teacher and the education system as a whole. While technology, apps, and mobile devices are nice, to really make an impact on health literacy, we have to listen more closely, communicate more clearly, and take the time to make sure the patients understand what they have been told.

Thao: What are your challenges or successes while developing Health Nuts Media into a leading company?

Tim: Technology can simultaneously be one of our greatest assets and one our biggest challenges. We've learned that great patient education content is most impactful when there is a robust delivery system in place. So we've spent considerable time trying to understand clinical workflows, content management and delivery systems, and EHR integration so that we can best help the hospitals we serve -- which is a very indirect path for creating success.  We also find that patient education budgets are small (or non-existent) and that the people who need our products and services the most are not necessarily the ones who control the budgets.

On the other hand, we've found that there are so many challenges out there, and such a dearth of quality material, that if we can connect with the right stakeholders and help them solve their communication problems, we can make a tremendous impact. It's always great to hear success stories about how our content has helped improve a child's experience in the hospital.

Thao: What are the projects that you are working on now?

Tim: We've just completed 74 new videos in our Super H.E.R.O.E.S. series. These short, animated pediatric patient education videos feature a group of clinicians who can use their super powers to help kids understand some of the most common procedures they may go through in a hospital. We co-produced the series with Bernard & Millie Duker Children's Hospital at Albany Medical Center and we're currently translating all of them into Spanish. We're also working with Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego and North County Health Services on a pediatric asthma research project through a Transforming Clinical Practice Initiative (TCPI) grant from CMS.

Thao: Can you share a quote or leader that inspires you daily? For example, I have two favorite quotes from Steve Jobs.

Tim: I went to see one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman, speak last week. Someone in the audience asked if he had any advice for an aspiring writer and he said "Yes. Stop aspiring and write!"