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Improving health literacy in West Louisville is the focus of Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence gift

An outreach and education initiative hopes to improve healthcare utilization and health outcomes through more effective communication with West Louisville residents. The University of Louisville School of Public Health and Information Sciences has received a $300,000 gift from the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence to develop health literacy tools that tailor information about chronic health conditions to West Louisville residents in an appropriate sociocultural context. The funding will be awarded in two phases, $105,000 this year and $195,000 in 2016, pending a progress review.

The project will be based in the Office of Public Health Practice (OPHP) under the leadership of School of Public Health and Information Sciences Associate Dean Monica Wendel, Dr.P.H., M.A., and Assistant Professor Ryan Combs, Ph.D., M.A.

Wendel says although more Kentucky residents have health coverage through the expansion of Medicaid and implementation of the Affordable Care Act, not everyone understands how to use the services available.

“Communities are not cookie-cutter; each community needs access to health information in its own sociocultural context. The promise of this work is that we can have a tangible impact on the health of a community by making information accessible, enabling people to better prevent and manage chronic disease, and maintain positive health. We see this as part of a body of work that seeks to reduce disparities in this population,” Wendel said.

The research team will conduct a series of focus groups with members of the West Louisville community, and their input will help guide the project efforts. Through a community-based data collection process, Combs says the office hopes to learn more about the information residents need, sources they trust, and barriers they need to overcome.

“For a long time, health information has been presented in pamphlets and websites, but people who need services the most don’t access health information that way.  We want to know whether the community would benefit from alternative ways of receiving information, perhaps through a web app, peer-to-peer learning opportunity, or another mechanism entirely.  We are remaining open-minded about how the final product may look,” Combs said.

The OPHP plans to conduct follow-up focus groups to test and refine the materials, and will then disseminate the development process and health information tools through larger community and organizational networks.

Q&A with Dr. Ryan Combs


October 19, 2015

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