The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted a new focus on staying healthy, from prevention to education, and several teams at the University of Arizona Health Sciences are taking the opportunity to offer health literacy events for the public. They are hoping to empower and engage people during a health crisis — even amid social distancing.
The concept of health literacy is a measure of how well you can use available information to make the best health decisions. For example, understanding how the virus that causes COVID-19 can spread, or why you must complete a course of antibiotics even after you begin to feel better.
Some Health Sciences teams have launched completely new virtual events, while others are pivoting from in-person lectures to webinars that reach people in their homes. The efforts are numerous, but a few examples help illustrate their breadth and reach.
People’s Grand Rounds: Medical education for everyone
The Arizona Telemedicine Program and the Southwest Telehealth Resource Center have decades of experience training medical students and professionals to provide telemedicine to patients. Director Ronald Weinstein, MD, says the mission also includes community outreach, which has most recently been expressed in a newly launched webinar series called the People’s Grand Rounds. “It’s specifically for the people, not the medical profession,” Dr. Weinstein said.
Grand rounds are typically formal meetings where physicians learn about the latest discoveries and practices in their fields. Dr. Weinstein cited the importance of promoting health literacy as one of the primary motivators for creating a series of grand rounds for the community. He has been teaching health literacy for more than 40 years, starting when he was in Chicago running “people’s clinics” to help families understand autopsy results.
“I became acutely aware of the fact that, in general, health care literacy in the United States could be much better,” Dr. Weinstein explained. “We’re very interested in community outreach, and focusing on the topics that would be of interest to the community.”
The People’s Grand Rounds debuted with two webinars: One covered how to interpret COVID-19 antibody test results, and the other was an overview of convalescent plasma to treat acute COVID-19 infections. Dr. Weinstein says the webinars accomplished their goal, with an increasing number of non-health care professionals joining the events.
Understanding Coronavirus: Webinars for children and teens
The Arizona Simulation Technology & Education Center (ASTEC) has partnered with the Arizona Telemedicine Program to create and host a webinar series to educate children, preteens and teenagers about COVID-19. Organizers have reached out to hundreds of K-12 students, and presented a webinar for a Head Start class consisting of nearly two dozen 4- and 5-year-olds.
“The presentations are designed to review questions that children and adolescents might have, like can I catch coronavirus from my pet? When can I see my friends again?” said Christina Partica, ASTEC senior program coordinator. “Our goal for this series is to help children and adolescents better understand the pandemic through an age-appropriate lens.”
The weekly, live webinars are hosted by ASTEC Executive Director Allan Hamilton, MD, and Deana Smith, RN, healthcare simulation educator. The series was so successful in reaching students from Arizona and other countries that it was extended from June into August. Organizers put together webinars for the Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind, and will offer sign language interpretation and closed captioning. They’re also looking into Spanish translation for future webinars.
“These webinars are designed for children and the lay public, so they are easy to understand and accessible for everyone,” Partica said. “Though the content is directed toward younger age groups, we hope it is also instructional for parents, teachers and anyone else who interacts with children, so they can better speak to the crisis in an age-appropriate manner.”
Wellness Wednesdays: Offering tools for action
Wellness Wednesdays is a newly launched weekly webinar series that shares health and wellness tips at lunchtime. Topics have included healthy eating at home, staying connected with family during times of physical distancing, and breathing techniques.
“Our topics cover all areas of wellness, mind, body and spirit, and aim to educate the public on how they can improve their own wellness through simple actions,” said Annemarie Medina, MBA, director of corporate and community relations for the Health Sciences Office of Communications. “Introducing the public to the wealth of information available to them and the opportunities to take control of their health will help support the overall wellness of our community.”
Medina says promoting health literacy is an important part of her team’s mission.
“Strong health literacy enables people to develop the skills and confidence to make informed decisions about their health and the health of their families, to be active partners in their care, to effectively navigate health care systems, and to advocate effectively to their political leaders and policy-makers,” Medina said. “You cannot control that which you do not understand.”
Arthritis Center: Expanding reach through webinars
Other virtual events target a more specific slice of the general population. For more than two decades, the University of Arizona Arthritis Center has presented a monthly lecture series during the academic year titled “Living Healthy With Arthritis,” as well as twice-monthly classes as part of the “Living Healthy With Arthritis Canyon Ranch Active Series.”
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the center moved these events to a virtual format — which came with a silver lining for organizers. “Some members of our target audience might have increased access to these events,” said Tracy Shake, director of outreach and education for the Arthritis Center. “Those with mobility limitations, who typically must navigate tasks such as driving, parking, and maneuvering to the venue and the appropriate seating, now can simply stream events from home.”
Shake and Arthritis Center marketing specialist Greg Gilles say that promoting health literacy is an important component of these events.
“Health literacy influences a large number of important health-related behaviors one makes on a daily basis, from dietary choices to medication adherence,” Shake said. “The health literacy of one individual can also significantly impact the health of others, such as instances in which one individual makes health decisions on behalf of a family member.”
The Arthritis Center’s classes and lectures have concluded for the academic year, but are scheduled to resume in September. Organizers plan to continue with the livestream format — though there is talk of including a small in-person audience as well if conditions allow.