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Sydney Ideas at Westmead - How can we improve health literacy in diverse communities?

A Sydney Ideas, Westmead event



Conference Room The Westmead Institute for Medical Research (WIMR)

Health literacy describes the literacy skills (reading, writing, numeracy) which enable people to obtain, understand and use information to make decisions about their health. These are an observable set of skills that vary from individual to individual, and can be developed and improved through good communication and more formal education. These skills are important in everyday life, enabling individuals to understand and articulate their health needs, and to understand and know how to access the health services available to them.

The only national survey in Australia (ABS 2008) determined that greater than 60% of the Australian adult population have inadequate health literacy skills. Low health literacy is more common among socially and economically disadvantaged populations, and among older Australians. Cultural and linguistic barriers further complicate an already challenging picture.

Sadly, the very people who are most in need of quality healthcare are often those who suffer most from poor communication and a complex, alienating health system. But a substantial body of research has demonstrated that improved health literacy contributes not only to better health outcomes and better use of the healthcare system, but also to improved engagement with prevention and screening programs, and greater receptiveness to health education.

Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) has identified improved health literacy for western Sydney as one of its key priorities. Our challenge is: how do we identify practical actions to improve health literacy in the diverse communities of Western Sydney? What are our roles as users and consumers of health services? As clinicians? As health service managers?

Join our expert panel for a wide-ranging and thought provoking conversation about the possible roles and responsibilities of health professionals, families, individuals and whole communities in ensuring everyone has an appropriate understanding of their health, their healthcare options, and how to make best use of them.


Professor Don Nutbeam (moderator), Professor of Public Health at the University of Sydney Medical School, and a Senior Advisor at the Sax Institute
Professor Kirsten McCaffery, behavioural scientist at the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney Medical School
Dana Mouwad, Program Lead within the Western Sydney Integrated and Community Health Directorate
Professor Rachel Skinner, Discipline of Child and Adolescent Health at University of Sydney Medical School, and Adolescent Physician at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead
Dr Coralie Wales, Manager, Community and Consumer Engagement at Western Sydney Local Health District