HEALTHWISE: Hepatitis C and Health Literacy | Lucinda K. Porter, RN
The ability to communicate effectively can change the world. When Alan Franciscus published the first HCV Advocate in 1998, he didn’t know he was going to change the world. Alan provided reliable information at a time when people were starving for it. This simple act empowered those of us who were living with hepatitis C and inspired an advocacy movement. As a result, the world was changed, proving the adage that the pen is mightier than the sword.
Although what we know about hep C has come a long way, there is still more work to be done. Three major problems exist:
- Screening of people at risk for hepatitis C is insufficient.
- Access to care and treatment is inadequate.
- There is a huge need for more effective measures to prevent viral hepatitis transmission.
In short, we need to increase our education efforts. What better time to jump in than now during Health Literacy Month.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) describes health literacy as “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.” In plainer language, health literacy is information that is easy to understand.
Many factors affect our ability to obtain, process, and understand basic health information. Culture, inadequate education, language, communication styles, poverty, illness, healthcare system complexities, and lack of access to healthcare are some of these factors.
HHS reports that nearly nine out of ten adults may lack the skills needed to manage their health and prevent disease. Low literacy is linked to poor health outcomes and higher healthcare costs.
Improving health literacy is one of the many goals of the Affordable Care Act (commonly called Obamacare). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also provides resources to help organizations, communities and people to improve health literacy.
In 2012, the CDC recommended screening for hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection in persons at high risk for infection and adults born between 1945 and 1965. The United States Prevention Services Task Force issued the same recommendations in 2013.
However, despite the recommendations, screening is still low. Research published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine shows that despite the recommendations, the incidence of testing hasn’t increased much. (Recent Hepatitis C Virus Testing Patterns Among Baby Boomers, Ahmedin Jemal, Stacey A. Fedewa, July 2017) In 2013, 12.3% of baby boomers were tested for hepatitis C; it increased slightly to 13.8% in 2015. We need to test all baby boomers for hep C.
The primary responsibility for improving health literacy falls to public health professionals and the healthcare and public health systems. Since they don’t seem to be doing this effectively, then we need to help to get the word out. Hepatitis C advocates are doing a phenomenal job, but like those in the healthcare and public health systems, their resources are stretched. It’s time for all hands on deck.
What You Can Do
I believe that if everyone informs a few people about the need to be tested, we can make a huge difference. Craft a simple message and then share it with everyone you feel comfortable telling. Here’s an example, “The CDC recommends hepatitis C testing for people born from 1945 through 1965.” Here’s an even shorter message, “Do you need to be tested for hep C?” After your message, you can provide a link to more information.
Once you have your message, share it. Here are some easy ways to spread the word:
- Have a conversation. Ask every baby boomer you meet to get tested.
- Let your email signature line do the talking. I use a graphic from the CDC’s website. It automatically attaches to every message I send out.
- Post messages to Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest or Twitter reminding the world about hepatitis C.
- Write a letter to the editor of your local paper about the need to reach people who have hepatitis C but who are not yet diagnosed.
- Ask your local radio station to run a public service announcement (PSA). The CDC provides some scripts.
- Send e-cards to friends, family, and colleagues who are baby boomers, encouraging them to get tested for hepatitis C.
- Tell your hep C story.
If you are tempted to ignore this opportunity to raise awareness, keep in mind that the number of people who die every year from hepatitis C is greater than the combined total of deaths from all other 60 infectious diseases. We have lives to save. Alan Franciscus and other advocates have contributed a great deal in the past 20 years. Let’s support that effort, stopping only when hepatitis C is stopped.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – www.cdc.gov/healthliteracy/learn/index.html
- (Health Literacy) www.cdc.gov/knowmorehepatitis (Tools)
- Center for Health Care Strategies- www.chcs.org/resource/health-literacy-implications-of-theaffordable-care-ac
- HCV Advocate – www.hcvadvocate.org
- Hep Magazine – www.hepmag.com/category/hep-stories
- Institute for Healthcare Advancement – www.iha4health.org
- Plain Language.gov www.plainlanguage.gov
- Recent Hepatitis C Virus Testing Patterns Among Baby Boomers, Ahmedin Jemal, Stacey A.
Fedewa, American Journal of Preventive Medicine July 2017 – www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(17)30092-2/fulltext
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