Getting the Word Out About Health Literacy

R.V. Rikard is all about starting a conversation about what can happen when people don't understand their doctors. As a sociologist, the Postdoctoral Research Associate in MSU's Department of Media and Information makes it a practice to talk among his peers, among his research colleagues, and most importantly, he says, to influencers and media that can help get the word out to general audiences.

"My thinking is always that the place you can make the greatest difference as a researcher and communicator is with people in the general public," Rikard said. "It's validating to make our research real and accessible."

For nearly a decade, Rikard has been studying health literacy – or what he describes as the ability of people to understand and act upon a doctor's instructions, diagnosis or prescribed treatments – particularly during times of extreme stress or trauma. And as health care issues rise in prominence, Rikard has become increasingly tapped as a media resource, as well as for scholarly publications in his field.

In September, Rikard served as a source for an article, "Here's What Happens When People Don't Understand Their Doctor," in GOOD-A Magazine for the Global Citizen. Earlier in the month, he was featured in the American Psychological Association journal Traumatology with a research article that examined health literacy within trauma-related health care.

"Health literacy is not just about accessing and understanding information," Rikard said. "It's more about the ability to act upon information and the effect that can have on the health of a person and our communities as a whole."

Rikard also is an honorary fellow at Australia's Deakin University School of Health and Social Development. His research interests include health literacy and health disparities, the social impact of technology and health and community health, and the connection between online health messages using social media and social network sites and offline health behaviors.

Related Research: Examining Health Literacy Disparities in the United States