Panel to discuss health literacy, plain language at March 15 CTSI forum

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Published March 1, 2023

“I hope attendees come away with an understanding of the importance of our commitment as researchers and healthcare providers to pay careful attention to improving our language and promoting health literacy,”
Tim Murphy.

According to the National Institutes of Health, “Everyone, no matter how educated, is at risk for misunderstanding health information if the topic is emotionally charged or complex.” As the rise in misinformation demonstrates, health literacy matters now more than ever.

That is the message behind the panel discussion happening at the University at Buffalo Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) Annual Forum on March 15. The discussion is the centerpiece of the 2023 forum, which will be held in person from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. in the Murphy Family Seminar Room (5019 A&B) at the Clinical and Translational Research Center (CTRC) on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. See full agenda and registration link.

“Listening and understanding builds trust”

CTSI Director Timothy F. Murphy, MD, SUNY Distinguished Professor, says health literacy is about speaking and communicating in a way that is understandable.

“Traditionally, many of us who are healthcare providers and researchers struggle with that,” Murphy says. “However, it is vital that we communicate what needs to be communicated to people. Listening and understanding builds trust. And if people don’t understand, then it’s hard for them to take control of their own health and participate actively in their healthcare. ”

To assist researchers, the CTSI’s Recruitment Resources Toolkit now features a plain language section, along with a downloadable readability tip sheet. CTSI Clinical Recruitment Coordinator Ashley Regling, MA, explains, “We are always available to assist with the development of study materials, but we hope to instill autonomy in research teams to develop plain language content specific for their areas of expertise.”

On February 22, CTSI Integrating Special Populations Coordinator Andy Strohmeier, MEd, hosted an Open Research Office session on the topic. The session can be watched in its entirety here.

“We must take steps to ensure that the information we present can be understood by as many people as possible — including fellow scientists, allies, or community members,” Strohmeier says. “By becoming ‘bilingual’ in plain language, we are that much closer to fostering greater trust in the community, and, ultimately, improving health and health literacy for all.”

Panel featuring community members and UB faculty

The Annual Forum panel discussion is the next step in disseminating information on this critical issue. The panel will feature presentations from two community members and three UB faculty members, followed by a group Q-and-A. Below is the lineup of the panel in order of appearance, along with presentation titles and brief biographical information:

  • Kelly Wofford, MS, Director, Health Equity Office, Erie County Department of Health: “Health Literacy as a Social Determinant of Health”
    Wofford has been working in the community for many years and has a particular interest in mental health. As a guest on the June 27, 2022, WBFO “Buffalo: What's Next?” talk show, she talked specifically about health literacy and the importance of how healthcare professionals communicate.
  • Veronica Meadows-Ray, Research Team Member and Participant, National Witness Project, Buffalo: “Communicating with Researchers and Research Participants”
    Meadows-Ray is a community member who is a breast cancer survivor and has published papers with Heather M. Ochs-Balcom, PhD, from the School of Public Health and Health Professions. In her role with the National Witness Project, she has worked with researchers and helped recruit people to clinical trials.
  • Melanie Green, PhD, Chair and Professor of Communication, College of Arts and Sciences: “Storytelling and Health Communication”
    Green has written papers on the importance of storytelling and communication, and her research examines the power of narrative on beliefs, including the effects of fictional stories on real-world attitudes. She has examined narrative persuasion in a variety of contexts, from health communication to social issues.
  • Liise K. Kayler, MD, Program Director, Kidney and Pancreas Transplantation, Chief of the Division of Transplant Surgery, Research Professor of Surgery, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences: “Video-based Education and Mobile Communication”
    Kayler is a transplant surgeon who has worked closely with end-stage kidney disease patients who have difficulty accessing healthcare. She is engaged in community-based participatory research to accomplish wide dissemination of an animation-based educational solution to increase kidney transplant access in Buffalo and in New York State.
  • Jinjun Xiong, PhD, SUNY Empire Innovation Professor, Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences: “Does AI Have a Role in Health Literacy?”
    Xiong is one of the co-principal investigators of UB’s $20 million National Science Foundation grant to establish a national institute to develop artificial intelligence systems that identify and assist young children with speech and/or language processing challenges. 

“The importance of our commitment to promote health literacy”

Murphy believes forum attendees will gain an understanding of the necessity of focusing on improving health literacy. “I hope people come away with an understanding of the importance of our commitment as researchers and healthcare providers to pay careful attention to improving our language and promoting health literacy,” he says.

Read a recent CTSI article for additional details about the March 15 Annual Forum, which will feature a “State of the CTSI” talk from Murphy, along with a presentation from Erica Rosemond, PhD, Acting Deputy (Division) Director, Branch Chief and Acting Section Chief, Initiatives & Consortium-Wide Activities Section, Division of Clinical Innovation, National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), National Institutes of Health. In addition, Buffalo Translational Consortium Clinical Research Achievement Awards Oversight Committee Chair Anne B. Curtis, MD, SUNY Distinguished Professor, Department of Medicine, Jacobs School, will introduce the winner and finalist of the 2022 Clinical Research Achievement Awards.

Panelists, from left: Kelly Wofford, MS; Veronica Meadows-Ray; Melanie Green, PhD; Liise K. Kayler, MD; and Jinjun Xiong, PhD.

Panelists, from left: Kelly Wofford, MS; Veronica Meadows-Ray; Melanie Green, PhD; Liise K. Kayler, MD; and Jinjun Xiong, PhD.