Maryland has, once again, set a national standard to address the health care needs of its residents. This time, we at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, are excited to be at the nexus of this new and innovative approach. Our Horowitz Center for Health Literacy will become Maryland’s Consumer Health Information Hub, which has been established by the new law championed by Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk. She recognized the need to ensure that the public receives clear and useful health information. Our school is proud to partner with her, the rest of the Maryland General Assembly, and the Hogan administration on this new initiative.
As the School of Public Health at the state’s flagship university, we are dedicated to taking on grand challenges and serving the public good in all we do. We educate future leaders, we research what works and doesn’t, and we create and share information and resources that promote health, prevent disease and prolong well-being throughout life. The Consumer Health Information Hub is just one example of how we serve the public.
Our Maryland model has several elements. First, the hub will consult with state and local agencies, health and social services providers, hospitals and community nonprofits to ensure their public information in websites, social media, print materials and community meetings meets the highest standards for clear communications. Health care providers, in particular, are a vital link with patients and their families and are the most trusted sources of health information.
Second, the hub will provide our students with the opportunity to learn and practice clear health communication methods and prepare them to staff our state and local health departments, community organizations, clinics and health education programs. Working professionals will gain valuable on the job skills to respond to everyday health concerns like preventing diabetes and heart disease and the extraordinary ones like responding to a pandemic.
Third, there will be an annual report to the General Assembly that lays out progress in serving Marylanders with all levels of health literacy. This is critical to improving the health of our residents and addressing health equity.
Maryland consumer advocate Leni Preston expressed the urgent need for clear, accessible and usable health information in a recent Maryland Matters commentary. Despite having worked on health care issues for decades, she still found it challenging to navigate the health care system after receiving a breast cancer diagnosis. Many more Marylanders with fewer resources face additional barriers that have led to health disparities and structural inequities in our health care system today. Addressing these issues will be a focus of the hub’s work to meet everyone’s need for information they trust and understand.
The COVID-19 pandemic has painfully reinforced the need for clear messages about public health. Communication missteps by some government agencies and the proliferation of misinformation online led to confusion about health risks and the unfortunate mistrust in reliable sources of information about the SARS-CoV-2 virus. We can and must do better to help people make informed choices to protect their health. Clear communication is critical to building trust and delivering information people can act upon; it can be lifesaving.
The hub approach will bolster Maryland’s commitment to improve health care quality and lower costs. Our state has been a leader in health care innovation, and our one-of-a-kind arrangement with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (known as the “total cost of care model”) aims to transform care delivery by rightly putting patients at the center. The Consumer Health Information Hub will play a critical role in contributing to the model’s success and to advancing health equity in our state.
The School of Public Health welcomes the opportunity to serve all Marylanders with the consumer health information hub. We are committed to a healthier, safer Maryland for all.
— Boris D. Lushniak, College Park
The writer is dean of the University of Maryland School of Public Health.
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