Rural Clinical School

Research - Dr Winifred van der Ploeg

Research links health literacy to healthcare navigation experiences 

This is a picture of Dr Winifred van der Ploeg


According to new research findings, health literacy is an important factor in determining a patient's experience navigating the Tasmanian Health System - but not in isolation of other determinants such as motivation, support, guidance and accessibility.

Rural Clinical School Research Fellow, Dr Winifred van der Ploeg, has just completed her PhD on Health Literacy and its impact on system navigation for people who have had, or are at risk of, a cardiac event.

The objective of the study was to determine the viability of health literacy as a focus for intervention to better equip people with the skills and abilities needed for healthcare navigation in the context of managing a chronic cardiac disease.

Dr van der Ploeg travelled to the USA on the 7th May to present her paper at the Institute for Healthcare Advancement's Eleventh Annual Health Literacy Conference: "Operational Solutions to Low Health Literacy".

With a background in Occupational Therapy, Dr van der Ploeg became interested in Health Literacy after considering the effectiveness of the plethora of information distributed to her patients.

Data from the most recent Adult Literacy and Lifeskills Survey reveal 60% of people aged 15 to 74 years do not have adequate health literacy. According to Dr van der Ploeg, the reality of that data is stark given the well documented implications of low health literacy and the fact Australia's healthcare system is characterised by its complexity, and rates of chronic disease are burgeoning.

"In the USA, similar literacy results promulgated healthcare navigation programs aimed at addressing patient barriers to care, but in Australia the responsibility for healthcare navigation devolves to the individual" said Dr van der Ploeg.

Her Research findings suggest that health literacy as a focus for intervention to better equip people with the skills and abilities needed for positive healthcare navigational experiences would need to be part of a multifactorial strategy that takes into consideration the other individual, service and system level factors shown to impact the navigation experience, given their interrelated nature.

Published on: 23 Jul 2012