THE AUSTRIAN HEALTH LITERACY ALLIANCE
In the last two decades, health literacy has become a subject of interest and a topic on the agenda of the World Health Organization (WHO). By positioning health literacy as a prominent issue in the Shanghai Declaration on Health Promotion, the WHO established a strong global mandate for policy action. Since then, several countries have established national health literacy policies or have incorporated health literacy as a priority issue within their broader health strategies. Among these countries, Austria implemented the Austrian Health Literacy Alliance to enhance health literacy in the population, which provides a model of good practice for others.
In 2011, the Federal Health Commission and the Austrian Council of Ministers compiled a list of health targets, or possible approaches toward further improving general health in Austria. Specifically, ten national health targets were defined with the main aim of increasing the number of years lived in a healthy condition, to be attained within the next 20 years.
Because health is affected by many factors outside the healthcare system, the health targets focus on those areas where a positive influence on maintaining and improving public health can be achieved. Therefore, determinants that have a decisive influence on health are given priority, i.e. education, employment, social security and environmental influences.
Taking into account the related health determinants and policy areas, all relevant political and social stakeholders in Austria have been actively involved in the process of defining health targets. These ten national health targets currently guide healthcare reform in Austria and help to ensure coordinated planning, implementation and cross-sectoral action.
Health Target 3 – To enhance health literacy in the population
Health literacy is a central pillar for the promotion of health and equity in health among the population. It helps people make appropriate decisions for themselves in everyday life that promote their health. This requires enhancing personal competencies and accountability in all population groups, and particularly in disadvantaged groups, facilitating access to objective, easily comprehensible information of assured quality and increasing awareness of health promotion issues. Patients and users of the health care system should play an important role as stakeholders, which also enhances patients’ self-efficacy. It should be easy for people to find their way through the health care, educational and welfare systems and to play an active role as committed partners in the system.
Establishing the alliance
To guarantee long-term improvement in health literacy within the Austrian population, an appropriate coordination structure is needed. According to the health target process, all relevant political and social stakeholders have been integrated into the development process. In 2015, the intersectoral Austrian Health Literacy Alliance was created and entrusted with three priorities and five main aims.
- Improve the health literacy-friendliness of healthcare services
- Improve individual health literacy (especially in vulnerable groups)
- Improve the health literacy-friendliness of the production and service sector
- Support sustained engagement with health literacy in Austria
- Further networking, collaboration, exchange of experiences and collective learning
- Coordinate measures between different political and social sectors
- Aid development of a common understanding of health, spread knowledge and facilitate innovation
- Establish monitoring and reporting, and ensure transparency and quality
The structure of the alliance
The importance of the “Health in All Policies” (HiAP) approach was highlighted not only when developing the health targets, but also in the implementation of the intersectoral alliance itself.
A “core team” was established as a strategic decision-making body and consists of members of the federal government, federal states, social security institutions and HiAP partners. The Austrian Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection acts as chair of the core team.
Currently, the alliance consist of 50 members, all of which are organizations with measures in place in pursuit of the three platform priorities. These include strong partners of the healthcare, education and welfare systems, as well as societies and NGOs.
The coordinating centre supports the core team and acts as a knowledge centre and operative body for implementation. The centre is located in the Austrian Health Promotion Fund (FGÖ) and its main tasks include member management, community building and networking, public relations and conference organization.