The Power of Understanding

The Power of Understanding: Health Literacy & Older Adults


The Power of Understanding is a project aiming to reduce health disparities by improving both personal and organizational health literacy. It is supported by the Michigan Health Endowment Fund and led by Michigan Health Council in partnership with PACE Southeast Michigan, Nancy Combs Communications, LLC, University of Michigan College of Pharmacy, and Wayne State University Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy & Health Services. 

Projected Outcomes

  • Decrease in emergency department visits

  • Decrease in avoidable hospitalizations

  • Improvement in each participant’s HbA1c level

  • Increase in participant satisfaction with provider communication

  • Increased caregiver confidence in their ability to deliver associated participant supports

Key Goals

  • Improve health literacy in medication management by older adults diagnosed with type 2 diabetes

  • Improve provider skills in health-literate communication and patient education

  • Contribute to overall reduction in health disparities

Frequently asked questions

What is health literacy?

In general, health literacy “meets people where they are.” There are two types of health literacy: • Organizational health literacy is the extent to which organizations equitably empower people to find, understand, and use information and services to make informed health decisions and actions for themselves and others. • Personal health literacy is the extent to which people can find, understand, and use information and services and others.

Why is health literacy important?

Health literacy is critical because it is one of the most accurate predictors of health status - even more so with seniors and in vulnerable populations where racial health disparities are epidemic and complex. For example, in the U.S., Black adults are nearly twice as likely as white adults to develop type 2 diabetes. Additionally, studies show that glycemic management is twice as poor in patients with low health literacy. At PACE Southeast Michigan, 42% of participants have a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes and 69% of participants are Black.

How do the three realms of health literacy relate to this project?

There are three intersecting realms of health literacy: Transformational organizational change, provider education, and resources for participants. • Transformative opportunities for PACE Southeast Michigan to become a health-literate organization, including an organizational audit, multi-level staff engagement, and new patient education resources. • Development and testing of a provider education curriculum that will engage all PACE staff and students who communicate with PACE participants about their health or healthcare. • Participant resources for type 2 diabetes based in the tools and protocols of organizational health literacy, administered by providers trained in a health-literate, culturally competent approach.

What is the role of PACE Southeast Michigan?

This project will serve some 500 PACE Southeast Michigan participants and their caregivers. The strategy of the grant is to improve health information resources at PACE Southeast Michigan, enhance communication between providers, participants, and caregivers, support informed decision-making and access to services, and lead to improvements in clinical and quality of life outcomes.