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Health literacy puts healthcare in your hands

Written by Nera Kuljanic and Sara Cagol

On 1 July the Science and Technology Options Assessment (STOA) Panel welcomed a wide audience to a workshop on ‘Health literacy in Europe’. The event featured the presence of Paul Rübig, STOA Chair, who opened and chaired the event, and MEP Karin Kadenbach, who had proposed the event to STOA and also provided the concluding remarks.

STOA – Health Litteracy in Europe. Empowering
patients – how can technology contribute to improving
health literacy?

The panellists took stock of what Europe has being doing in this respect and presented the possibilities and challenges posed for health literacy by new technologies. Kristine Sorensen, from Maastricht University, described health literacy as “the ability to find, understand, appraise and apply information in all forms to manage health in daily life”. Health literacy is a way to empower patients, giving them the tools to manage their healthcare. In this light, it is necessary to provide patients with essential skills, knowledge and easy-to-use services.

Roberto Bertollini, chief scientist and World Health Organisation (WHO) representative to the European Union, claimed that “health literacy is a key determinant of health”, pointing out that a high level of health literacy corresponded to a healthier lifestyle. For instance, as the health literacy level grows, the time spent doing sport rises and the number of smokers decreases. Together with public and private health institutions and health professionals, people are a fundamental part of healthcare and health systems. As Kaisa Immonen-Charalambous, senior policy adviser at the European Patients’ Forum (EPF), put it, participatory healthcare’ was about reshaping the system from ‘doing things for patients’ to ‘doing things better with patients’. Patient empowerment should not be seen as a threat by health professionals.

Marc Lange, Secretary-General of the European Health Telematics Association (EHTEL), reminded the audience that technologies allowing patients to be in charge of managing their health already existed for a long time. Technologies, such as the so-called tele-coaching and self-help tools, make it possible to move “the place of care from hospitals toward patients’ houses, or even pockets”, according to Mr Lange. Irina Dinca, senior expert at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), suggested that changes in behaviour were nevertheless needed if people were to efficiently integrate these technologies in their daily lives. According to Inés Madurga, from the General Pharmaceutical Council of Spain, such a change could be facilitated by mobile apps that would guide people towards the autonomous access and understanding of information on medicines.

Terje Peetso, from DG Connect, European Commission, emphasised that, far from being a barrier to inclusiveness, technological support in healthcare engaged and empowered otherwise unreachable population groups. In her closing remarks, Ms Kadenbach encouraged the European Union to take a strategic lead in health literacy.

If you have missed the workshop, check it out here, and tell us, do you face barriers in understanding and applying the information and instructions at your disposal for better managing your health?


Photos from the event

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