Equal access to health information is vital in tackling health inequalities

May 25, 2016

IPH Conference hears 40% of Irish population have low health literacy levels – low literacy linked with poor health outcomes

A conference hosted by the Institute of Public Health in Ireland (IPH) has heard today that more equal access to health information is vital in tackling health inequalities. The inaugural Knowledge 4 Health Conference – which is being held in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin – brings nearly 400 delegates from across the island of Ireland to consider ways to improve our health and wellbeing through democratising health information.

Professor Kevin Balanda of IPH said “access to the most up-to-date health information is a key determinant of health and wellbeing for individuals, families, communities and places”.

“Providing greater access to health information can help the way we live our lives and help inform the way public resources and services are planned and used and guide research being undertaken. It is about identifying ways to improve health services for us all and creating public health systems that reflect the needs of both the local and national population”.

“In addition, making health information more widely available – democratising it – will also make a significant contribution to tackling health inequalities.”

Professor Balanda explained that using health information to reduce health inequalities was one of the key topics of the Knowledge 4 Health Conference (http://knowledge4health.net/sites/default/files/20160429_K4H.pdf). Other topics being covered at the conference include:

  • Empowering citizens to make informed choices
  • Information systems to support child health and wellbeing
  • E-health and what it can do to support public health.

“Making health information more widely available is an important part of ‘Creating an environment where every individual and sector of society can play their part in achieving a healthy Ireland’ which is Goal 4 of Healthy Ireland, the Republic of Ireland’s public health framework,” Professor Balanda said.

Returning to the topic of health information and tackling health inequalities, the National Adult Literacy Agency’s Inez Bailey, informed the Knowledge 4 Health Conference that 40% of the Irish population have low health literacy levels and that this is linked with poor health outcomes.

“Health literacy is the ability to read, understand and act on health information and it is closely connected with health outcomes. An OECD study of Ireland showed that those experiencing low literacy levels had reported significantly higher levels of poor health than those with higher literacy scores.

“Patients who are better informed about their health have more effective consultations with their healthcare provider, are better informed about the medicines they are prescribed, are more likely to comply with their medication and as a result have improved health outcomes. In addition, those with limited literacy and numeracy skills are less likely to make use of health screening programmes, tend to present at much later stages of disease and are more likely to be hospitalised.”

Ms Bailey said that research conducted in Ireland indicates that one-in-five Irish people are not fully confident that they understand the information they receive from their healthcare professional. In a survey conducted in 2015, 17% of respondents said they had taken the wrong amount of medication on at least one occasion.

“In practical terms, we need to undertake awareness raising and training activities with healthcare workers at all levels and health literacy needs to be integrated into all national health campaigns and screening projects,” Inez Bailey concluded.

Notes to Editors

Knowledge 4 Health Conference

The Knowledge 4 Health Conference is being organised by IPH in partnership with the Departments of Health in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, the HSE and the Public Health Agency (NI).

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