Q&A with co-PI, Dr. Ryan Combs

We invited Dr. Ryan Combs, assistant professor, to answer a few questions about his exciting new health literacy project funded by the Jewish Heritage Foundation.

What is the significance of the work you are doing with this project?

Often health literacy is misunderstood to only be about ensuring that health materials are easy for people to read, for example, by using plain language.  However, this is one part of a broader picture.  Achieving health literacy requires us to access, process, understand, and be able to act on health information.  In populations that already experience many health issues such as West Louisville, low levels of health literacy can worsen disparities because people are less able to proactively manage their health.

In this project, we want to take a fresh approach to health literacy by tailoring information about three health conditions to residents of West Louisville. We are interested in finding out what information residents need, what sources they trust, what barriers exist, and how any barriers can be overcome.  For a long time health information has been presented in pamphlets and websites, but the extent to which these are utilized varies.  We want to know whether the community would prefer a different way of receiving information, perhaps through a web app, peer-to-peer learning opportunity, or another mechanism entirely.  We are remaining open minded about what the final product might look like.

How are you engaging the community, specifically?

We will conduct a series of focus groups with community members from across West Louisville and their input will direct our efforts.  Over the past year, the Office of Public Health Practice has spent a considerable amount of time building relationships with people living and working in the community.  We’ve reached out to individuals and groups by regularly attending events such as Zones of Hope meetings and health fairs, engaging with faith and community groups, meeting with area leaders, and spending time at community centers.  We also have an advisory group comprised of health professionals who have an interest in health literacy, many of whom work in West Louisville.

Any other thoughts?

There are many exciting things happening in West Louisville!  I’m glad this grant will allow us to have a direct positive impact on an important underserved population.  We would like to thank the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence for investing in the first phase of this work.

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