Health literacy is a significant problem in the United States and around the World. Social Media and advances in online video have created new opportunities for physicians to better educate their patients. Patients are increasingly turning to internet based resources to better understand their medical conditions and treatment options.
Technology as a Link to Literacy and Improved Healthcare
In order to take advantage of these new resources, however, patients are going to have to be technologically savvy, and possess strong reading and writing skills. Unfortunately, this exciting opportunity to improve health literacy comes at a time when public schools across the nation are struggling from a lack of funding support.
In Michigan, where I practice, current k-12 funding levels are the same as they were back in 2005-2006. Meanwhile, the costs of educating students continues to rise. Inner city school districts were first to be affected. Now, even well managed school districts in affluent communities are facing significant budget deficits.
Grand Haven Area Public School (GHAPS) District is a good example of a local school system dealing with this formidable challenge. Grand Haven High School has consistently ranked in the top 6 percent of public high schools in the Nation, and the top 3 percent of high schools in Michigan. The district excels in both academic and extracurricular programs.
Deficits Despite Cost Cuts
Over the years, in order to maintain its educational programs, the district has dramatically cut costs, and sought new sources of revenue. Over the past five years, the district has been able to save $1.1M in energy costs from investing in energy efficient boilers, windows, and doors. The district has also made significant efforts to generate revenue beyond what it receives from the legislature. GHAPS currently contracts with the City of Grand Haven to service their information technology needs. In addition, the GHAPS district sells fuel to Harbor Transit, the City of Grand Haven’s public transportation network.
Unfortunately, despite careful management and planning, the district still faces a $3 million deficit for the 2013-2014 school year. Unless the State of Michigan increases K-12 funding, teachers will be laid off, class sizes will increase, and ultimately school programs will need to be cut. These changes will undoubtedly have a direct impact on learning in the classroom.
Health Literacy is Critical
Health literacy is critical if we want our patients to be informed about their diagnosis and treatment options. It is also critical if we expect patients to be compliant with their treatment. Increased compliance will not only lead to better outcomes, but also decrease health care costs.
It is now possible to leverage social media and online video to improve health literacy, and as a result, reduce health care costs. To do this, however, k-12 public education needs to be appropriately funded, so that schools can effectively do their part to educate all of our children.