Overview and Challenge
Understanding insurance forms, doctor’s instructions and government health programs can be difficult regardless of a person’s education. The ability, or lack thereof, to understand this sort of information is what health literacy is about. Back in 2006, when the HCRC began working in health literacy, this concept was unknown by most and misunderstood by many. Our challenge was to raise awareness about health literacy and help turn Health Literacy Missouri (HLM) into a recognized leader in the field in Missouri.
We conducted a national survey of health journalists and learned that nearly 40 percent of those surveyed had never heard of health literacy. Those that had heard of it had varying levels understanding of the concept. This lack of understanding in the media was reflected in the paucity of stories about health literacy. To increase the awareness about both health literacy and HLM in Missouri, the HCRC created the HLM News Service and began sending ready-to-use, easy to understand stories about health and health literacy to media throughout the Show-Me state. This was done both to inform the media and, subsequently, the public about health literacy and to position HLM as a trusted source of easily understood health information.
Strategy and Creative Direction
Using agenda setting theory and evidence-based practices of tailoring, the HCRC created stories with data and information specific for each community with a media outlet (newspaper, radio or television station). These stories were augmented with standard public relations practices, such as regular follow-up phone calls with the media outlets, surveys to determine what parts of the news service were appreciated and what might be changed, and collaborations with groups such as the Missouri Association of Local Public Health Agencies to further enhance the local messaging.
During the 2+ years the HLM News Service ran, 52 news stories were disseminated. Those stories were picked up more than 600 times by 123 different newspapers covering 86 Missouri counties. The newspapers averaged a circulation of about 3,800, yet the stories reached more than 2.3 million Missourians. Nearly 90% of the stories ran in rural areas. Possibly the most telling statistic is that of all the stories about health literacy than ran in Missouri newspapers during the project, the HCRC was responsible for 85 percent of them. This shows that the HLM News Service, in a short period of time, became the dominant source of health literacy information for the state.