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Welcome to the University of Tennessee Center for Community Health Literacy

Our Vision


  • People making good decisions to maintain/improve their health
  • Healthier communities through improved health literacy

How Do We Do This?


  • By improving the health literacy of Tennesseans through community education

Did you know that persons with low health literacy…

Incur medical expenses that are four times greater than patients with adequate health literacy because of:

  • More medication and treatment errors
  • Less compliance to treatment directives
  • Limited skills needed to successfully negotiate the healthcare system
  • Lack of understanding about the value of preventive services (screenings, immunizations, annual physicals and medical home)
  • Limited understanding of their medical condition and its treatment
  • Limited self-management skills for chronic conditions such as diabetes and asthma
  • More chronic conditions and limited ability to manage them
  • Greater use of treatment services due to being late in seeking care causing increased complications of acute and chronic conditions
    • Greater hospitalizations
    • Unnecessary emergency room visits
    • Unnecessary physician visits
    • Low utilization of preventative services such as mammograms, Pap tests
    • If insured, unaware of services covered

Who Are We?

The University of Tennessee (UT) Center for Community Health Literacy is a partnership between the UT College of Pharmacy and UT Extension. This unique collaborative model was established in 1999 and was the first formal partnership between these two university units to be established in the country. We have 94 years of experience teaching Tennesseans. The mission of our center is to provide Tennesseans with excellent, innovative health education materials and programs that are understandable, based on science and delivered in community settings.

Unlike national groups such as the American Medical Association, Pfizer and others who address communication skills between patients and healthcare providers within a healthcare setting, the Center addresses health literacy of the public in a broader context which includes both patient skills and consumer health decision-making skills, such as understanding health risks, choosing a healthy lifestyle that promotes and protects health, recognizing credible health information, knowing how to seek medical care, using preventive measures such as screenings, and understanding the different types of acute and chronic diseases. Through the Center, Extension educators are teaching Tennesseans in the community rather than the healthcare setting.

Improving the health literacy of the Tennesseans will improve the communications between patients and their healthcare providers within a healthcare setting. In other words, the Center's educational efforts will enhance the health literacy interventions of healthcare providers.

It is estimated that low health literacy costs the U.S. healthcare system $30 billion to $73 billion annually (National Academy of an Aging Society, 1999). Conversely, research has shown that Extension educational programs designed to increase health literacy skills concerning diabetes self-management and daily physical activity result in an economic savings in healthcare and lost wages (Texas AgriLife Extension Service, 2005).

Center Objectives


  1. Building partnerships at the county, state and national levels to address community health literacy.
  2. Developing educational and media materials to disseminate through the UT Extension statewide educational delivery network.
  3. Teaching Tennesseans to take action and reduce barriers leading to cost-effective and health-effective decisions for themselves and their families through community-based interventions.
  4. Acting as an advocate for patients by improving the understanding of the problem of health literacy among health care professional.

Why This Partnership is Important

With the advances in medicine and public health, everyday health information has become very complex. In addition, new and timely health information is meaningless, unless the intended audience can access and understand it. Through this partnership, the University of Tennessee’s College of Pharmacy and Extension, along with other partners (Tennessee Poison Center and National Council on Patient Information and Education) jointly develop educational materials and programs, which are disseminated through the network of county UT Extension educators working in the state’s 95 county offices. UT Extension is the only state-wide community education organization in the state. One of UT Extension’s greatest strengths is its capacity to reach large numbers of people in communities across the state with research-based information and evidence-based programs in health. An additional strength is the establishment of county partnerships that address health literacy issues unique to a specific community.


Our Community-based Health Literacy Programs

Partnerships are the foundation of our center. Building on the strengths of each partner has lead to the development of these successful community-based programs.

UT Extension also offers a variety of self-management programs addressing chronic disease in arthritis, diabetes and osteoporosis. The Center provides technical support to these programs, especially health literacy issues related to medications and immunizations.

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State Contact

Barbara (Bobbi) Clarke, PhD, RD
Professor, Extension Health Specialist and Co-Director UT Center for Community Health Literacy
University of Tennessee
Family & Consumer Sciences
119 Morgan Hall
Knoxville, TN 37996-4501
Phone: (865) 974-8197
Fax: (865) 974-5370
Email: bclarke@utk.edu