Poor literacy skills and diabetes have two things in common: They are reaching epidemic levels in the U.S. and they affect minority populations disproportionately. Put diabetes and low literacy together and the result is a recipe for disaster. Patients who have difficulty reading and understanding basic health care information–such as prescription bottle labels and the instructions for using devices like blood glucose self-monitors–are far less likely to comply with treatment regimens that will help them manage their disease. In fact, the Journal of the American Medical Association recently reported that low health literacy is associated with poor blood sugar control and higher instances of complications in patients with type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease.

To address this challenge, a task force of nationally recognized experts has come together to form the Diabetes Literacy Board. Members of the group include leading physicians, endocrinologists, cardiologists, certified diabetes educators and health literacy experts. The program is funded and administered by the pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline. Although there are currently no nurses on the board, a spokesperson for the project tells Minority Nurse that the board will eventually expand and diversify its ranks as the program becomes more established, adding representatives from other disciplines to broaden its range of expertise.

The Diabetes Literacy Board’s mission is to raise general awareness of type 2 diabetes while emphasizing the importance of basic diabetes-management knowledge among people who have, or are at risk for, the disease. The board plans to create easy-to-understand patient education programs, including informational brochures designed specifically for low-literacy patients, which will be distributed to health care centers nationwide. Topics covered will include risk factors, symptoms and potential long-term complications associated with both type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance, an underlying cause of the disease.
“Type 2 diabetes is indeed a complex and serious disease that, if left uncontrolled, can lead to a number of potentially dangerous and fatal complications,” says the board’s chairman, Martin J. Abrahamson, MD, chief of adult diabetes at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. “Because type 2 diabetes requires diligent management on the part of the patient–including meal planning, physical activity, blood sugar monitoring and often medication–health literacy is essential to ensure this is done most effectively.”

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