The American Society of Clinical Oncology’s 2017 Clinical Cancer Advances report features Professor Kim Kaphingst's recent health communication research. The report, which can be found here, includes Dr. Kaphingst's research in the section titled, "Addressing Health Literacy in the Era of Precision Medicine."
As a professor specializing in health communication and an investigator for the Huntsman Cancer Institute, Dr. Kaphingst's research crosses many disciplines. However, it is rare for health communication research to be included in a clinical report like ASCO's Clinical Cancer Advances. Her recent research focuses on the communication of genetic testing information to patients.
From the report:
Addressing Health Literacy in the Era of Precision Medicine
Genomics-based targeted cancer therapies have had a major, positive effect on modern cancer therapy. However, the ability to offer truly personalized cancer care to most patients will require lower costs for genomic testing and faster sample processing times. Not all communities and individuals have equal access to genomic testing, and such testing may not even be clinically informative for many patients. Another challenge is that precision medicine and its associated terminology are complex.
Recent research suggests that the public may not fully understand the current possibilities and limitations of genetic or genomic information, including results of genetic testing. One reason may involve the health literacy level of consumers, meaning how much people do or don’t understand health and medical information. For instance, one study shows that understanding health information is an important factor in how people perceive the importance of genetic testing (this study was funded in part by a grant from the NIH).81 Those with high health literacy scores tended to understand the importance and implications of genetic testing better than those who had low or limited health literacy scores. These findings are relevant whenever genetic testing is used to inform patient care, regardless of disease.
In the study, researchers surveyed more than 600 patients at a primary health clinic of a large hospital, which serves a diverse patient population in the St Louis, Missouri, area. Participants were asked to complete a written questionnaire followed by a set of verbally administered questions to measure their level of health literacy. The written questionnaire covered knowledge of genetics, participants’ confidence in their ability to use genetic information, and perceived importance of genetic information and family history. Most participants were aware of the importance of family health history and were sure they could talk about it with family members; however, approximately half of participants (47%) were found to have limited health literacy.
People with limited health literacy had lower genetics-related knowledge and lower awareness of the value of knowing family health history. Those with limited health literacy were more likely to think that learning about their genetic information was important, compared with those with adequate health literacy; however, they were less likely to think that family health history information was important. Interestingly, people with limited health literacy were more likely to discuss family health history with their physicians than those with adequate health literacy.
These findings underscore the need for education programs to improve health literacy, particularly with regard to genetics. An informed patient is able to make better decisions regarding genetic testing and screening and how these tools may be used to inform his or her health care.
See the ASCO's full report here.