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Faculty & Staff Honors

Faculty & Staff Honors

Maryland Research Team Awarded $1.3M NIH Grant to Build Health Literacy Mobile App for Underserved Populations

An interdisciplinary team from the University of Maryland School of Public Health has received a four-year, $1.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine to develop and test a new health literacy mobile app. The app will provide timely, accurate and personalized health information to people without regular access to health care.

Geared towards African-American and Spanish-speaking users of smartphones, the free app will allow users to set personal goals, enter personal and family health histories and access a variety of evidence-based information on disease prevention and health promotion.

“Increasing amounts of health information and services are online, and many people have only a mobile phone, not a desktop or laptop computer,” said Dr. Cynthia Baur, an endowed professor and director of the Horowitz Center for Health Literacy who’s overseeing development of the app. “Designing a smartphone app for multiple health topics, instead of one for a specialized purpose, allows the app to be more relevant and useful in everyday life.”

Dr. Baur is a recognized leader in developing easy to use tools for health promotion including the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) health literacy website, which provides resources and online training to improve health literacy and public health and the CDC Clear Communication Index, a set of scientific criteria for creating clear public communication materials. Her approach is based in communication science and focuses on providing diverse audiences with information in ways they can understand and use.

The intended users frequently lack convenient access to doctors or hospitals, and only a handful of Spanish-language health promotion apps now exist. The research team hopes the app will equip these vulnerable populations with the knowledge they need to make the best health decisions.

The multidisciplinary team working on the free app includes faculty members in the departments of Behavioral and Community Health and Health Services Administration and the Center for Health Equity, as well as faculty from the Department of Computer Science. They will work with a community design team and conduct a yearlong field test with the people who will be its end users.

“We’re working with community partners to include user feedback throughout,” Dr. Baur said. “we’re using health literacy principles to make the app, navigation and content easy to understand and use.”