This month, Dean Schillinger, MD, was awarded the 2013 Public Health Communications Research Award by the American Public Health Association (APHA). The APHA Everett Rogers Award is given to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to advancing the study and/or practice of public health communication. Dr Schillinger, Chief of the UCSF Division of General Internal Medicine at SF General Hospital, is widely recognized for his seminal work in the field of health literacy.
His team was the first to describe the relationship between limited literacy and worse glycemic control, as well as higher rates of diabetes complications. Given the global scale of the diabetes epidemic, and the disporprportionate prevalence of diabetes amongst populations of lower socioeconomic status, his findings have had local and international relevance. Dr Schillinger has also shown that poor clinician-patient communication is a mediator of the literacy-outcomes relationship, and he has used mixed methods approaches to identify effective communication techniques to overcome literacy-related barriers. He has also developed an interactive, multilingual telephone technology to improve quality of life for people with diabetes.
Dr Schillinger has mentored countless UCSF fellows and junior faculty in the field of health communications, including Dr Urmimala Sarkar (an expert in ambulatory care safety, who described the relationship between lower literacy and hypoglycemia), Dr Neda Ratanawongsa (an expert in doctor-patient relationships, who quantified the impact of higher communication scores on oral hypoglycemic medication adherence).
Dr Schillinger recently completed a 5 year term as Chief of the Diabetes Prevention and Control Program for the CA Dept of Public Health. He is the Director of the Health Communications Research Program of the UCSF Center for Vulerable Populations, and is the co-founder of The Bigger Picture Campaign, a ground-breaking public health literacy social marketing initiative that engages minority youth to address the social and environmental drivers of the type 2 diabetes epidemic in California (www.biggerpicture.org).
Dr Schillinger contributed to the Institute of Medicine's 2004 Report on Health Literacy and, 8 years later, authored the IOM paper on 10 Attributes of Health Literate Health Care Organizations, which outlines how and why health systems should institute policies and practices to engender more effective communication with patients and caregivers.