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News Literacy Week: Communicating about your health

Posted at 7:29 PM, Jan 29, 2021

KATC and our parent company, The E.W. Scripps Company, have partnered with the News Literacy Project, a nonpartisan education nonprofit to help the next generation of news consumers discern credible information from misinformation in today’s media.

News literacy teaches that all information is not created equal. Our objective is to raise awareness that news literacy is a fundamental life skill that helps create a healthy democracy, and to provide students, educators and the general public with the tools to determine what information they should trust, share and act on.

Knowing how to communicate about your health is crucial, especially in the fight against COVID-19. But complicated medical terms are causing confusion among patients, making it harder for healthcare workers to treat them.

Formites. Spike Protein. Viral Load. These are medical COVID-19 related terms and, for some, they could be hard to immediately understand.

Dr. Jasmine Marcelin, Infectious Disease Specialist with Nebraska Medicine, said, "It is so important for us to be able to communicate properly, this is the the most important thing that we need to do."

The CDC, American Medical Association, and the National Institutes of Health say public health information should be for a 6th to 8th grade reading level.

The 2010 Plain Writing Act requires federal agencies to use "clear government communication" too. The idea is that clear language will help Americans achieve enough medical literacy to be able to make sense of the news and make good decisions for their own health.

But research shows state public health and CDC websites are using overly complicated language to talk about COVID-19 and it could be having an impact. Complicated wording can mean gaps in which groups are sickened more by the virus. It also leaves nurses and doctors to combat confusion among patients.

Kim Armour is the Vice President and Chief Nurse Executive at Northwestern Medicine's Huntley Hospital.

She suggests using tools like analogies, pictures, and back and forth conversation to help talk through all the complex topics during the pandemic. Above all, Armour says, it's about meeting others at their level.

"When we talk about kind of baseline education and reading ability. Right. That's one small space of saying, OK. Could they be able to read it? Eighth grade level or four here in our organization, we really focused on the sixth grade level. I will tell you, in my doctoral school training, we did all of our work focused on a fourth-grade level," Armour stated.

It's a lesson for public health officials - a public that is better informed about the basics of a pandemic and make better allies in fighting it.

This is part of KATC's partnership for the News Literacy Project. Find more stories from this week below and learn more at newsliteracyweek.org.

KATC participates in second annual News Literacy Week

News Literacy Week starts today

News Literacy Week: Manipulated Content

News Literacy Week: Recognizing manipulated content

News Literacy Week: Spotting Fake Political News

News Literacy Week: Spotting fake political news

News Literacy Week: Looking for manipulated video

News Literacy Project: Project founder explains importance of news literacy

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