Health Literacy Initiative

A panel on health literacy at the UK TV studioThe College launched a colloquium series in Fall 2010 as part of its Health Literacy Initiative to address the problem of low health literacy in Kentucky. Health literacy is a person's ability to obtain, process, understand, and communicate health information and to make informed health decisions.

The Health Literacy Initiative focuses on four core areas: asset mapping, network development, engaged research, and capacity building. Graduate students involved in the Health Literacy Initiative are discovering what Kentucky is doing to improve health literacy and identifying what is working to maintain that improvement. They are also building a network of scholars to address health literacy issues and conducting research to find ways to raise health literacy in Kentucky. They are building on Kentucky’s assets has and creating new assets to fill in any gaps.

Health Literacy Colloquium
As part of a graduate seminar course and two undergraduate communication courses, the College held ten public forums with health literacy experts to have them collaborate on issues and possible ways to improve health literacy throughout the state. The colloquia were filmed for various uses, including the College's Website, podcasts, educational programming, and content analysis.

The Health Literacy Colloquium series is a distinctive program with the goal of increasing knowledge of basic health issues among Kentuckians. Each panel expert plays a different role. Some conduct research on health literacy in rural areas, while others educate pharmacy or medical students on how to counsel patients with low health literacy. Others guide patients and families with health issues by translating medical jargon into plain English. Panelists included UK President Lee T. Todd Jr., State Senator Julie Denton, State Representative Tom Burch, UK College of Medicine Dean Emery A. Wilson, and many others who deal with different aspects of increasing health literacy in Kentucky. The panel is moderated by Al Cross, Director of the College's Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

During the colloquia that have taken place, panelists have discussed a lack of information provided to caregivers and ways these caregivers can partner with patients. Other problems that have been recognized are patient self-care, taking medication correctly, and when to go to the emergency room.

After each colloquia is posted online, undergraduate and graduate students involved with the Health Literacy Initiative blog about each forum. This way, they can recognize the best practices that they have seen from the series.

The panels are featured on our video page and UK TV Cable Channel 16. 

Health Literacy Research Projects
The College acknowledges that no single program will produce greater health literacy in Kentucky. However, the hope is that the colloquia will encourage students to create awareness among others. The College expects that the Health Literacy Initiative will create connections with other programs that will improve health literacy in Kentucky. Several collaborative research projects have already been developed as a result of the initiative. These projects include a “Worth the Wait”/March of Dimes grant with the Kentucky Department of Health, a patient waiting room study with the College of Medicine, a diabetes control project with the Fridell Committee (a statewide advisory group), and an asset-mapping project in Owensboro, KY with the Green River Development District.

One of the larger projects to date is the 2011 Kentucky Substance Abuse Treatment Provider Directory that includes at least one resource in each of Kentucky’s 120 counties. The project is a collaborative effort between the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, which funded the project, the University of Kentucky College of Communication and Information, and the Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER), which is located in UK's Gatton College of Business and Economics.


What are health navigators, why are they important for improving health outcomes, and does Kentucky have enough of them? Unlocking the Complexity of the Health Care System: Kentucky's Health Navigators provides answers to these important questions as well as a directory of selected health navigators across Kentucky.


Good policy is dependent upon good data. This is especially true in health policy. Here we provide data on the number of Kentucky Medicaid beneficiaries who have received a mental or behavioral health diagnosis from 2000 to 2010. A Profile of Kentucky Medicaid Mental Health Diagnoses, 2000-2010 provides information on the total number of individuals who have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder as well as a year-by-year count of the 15 broad categories used to classify these diagnoses. Presented for children (age 18 and younger) and adults (19 and older), these data are organized at the state, regional, and county levels—which should enable leaders and citizens to compare mental health diagnoses between different communities. These comparisons should provoke important public policy and public health questions, such as what accounts for the different patterns across the state overall, between genders, and among races with respect to, for example, ADHD, developmental disorders, and substance-related disorders.


Understanding Medicaid pharmaceutical utilization in Kentucky is important: over $6.6 billion was expended in the state from 2000 to 2010 on outpatient medication; it has the potential to fundamentally transform the health and well-being individuals, and by extension wider communities; and there is a continuing trend in the nonmedical use (and abuse) of prescription drugs, exacting a heavy toll on individuals, their families, and the wider community. The Kentucky Medicaid Pharmaceutical Utilization Guide, 2000-2010 provides information on the 50 most utilized pharmaceuticals in Kentucky with respect to prescriptions, costs, and total grams—and presents this information for children (age 18 and younger) and adults (19 and older). These data are organized at the state, regional, and county levels—which should enable leaders and citizens to compare pharmaceutical utilization between different communities. These comparisons should provoke important public policy and public health questions, such as what accounts for the vastly different pharmaceutical utilization patterns across the state overall, between genders, and among races with respect to, for example, pain medication, ADHD drugs, or antipsychotic medication. Moreover, this report can facilitate the strategic allocation of resources dedicated to improving health literacy—among patients, health care providers, and the community at large.