Taking a Holistic Look at Well-Being and Health Literacy

Taking a Holistic Look at Well-Being and Health Literacy

Before we begin, let’s get one thing out of the way:

“It’s pronounced KASS-A BOY, like ‘cowboy,’” says Dr. Cassoobhoy.

Cassoobhoy, 48, is indeed a cowboy of sorts, wrangling information and then dispensing it in accessible ways. As Everyday Health’s chief medical editor and vice president of medical affairs, that’s exactly what she’ll be doing on a regular basis — along with her work as a practicing board-certified internist, and a mother of a 17-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son.

She was destined to be a doctor. Her father, Raz Moosajee, MD, was a pediatrician and Air Force Lieutenant Colonel in Warner Robins, Georgia, where she grew up.

“A lot of the kids I played with were my dad’s patients,” says Cassoobhoy, a former senior medical director at WebMD and senior medical correspondent at Medscape. “As I got into high school, I realized that I wanted to work directly with people. Medicine was a very natural path for me to pursue.”

In college at Emory University, she took a sociology of health and illness class, and a lightbulb went off. She discovered that what she really wanted to do was look at health as more than illness and the medical science; she was interested in a holistic approach, incorporating the perspective of individuals and their communities. She attended medical school at Emory School of Medicine, and received a master's degree in public health at Emory's Rollins School of Public Health. After about 10 years of clinical practice, she began to shift her focus to health education and ways to impact health beyond the one-on-one patient-doctor visit.

Cassoobhoy is currently a member of the Emory School of Medicine Alumni Board and is on the board of directors at the Clarkston Community Health Center (CCHC) in Georgia, a nonprofit clinic for individuals without adequate health insurance, many of whom are recent immigrants. She’s also an advisor for the Community Health Promoters Program at the Refugee Women’s Network, which brings together women from different backgrounds and trains them to impart health education to their communities.

One of the things she’s passionate about is health literacy — empowering people to find the information they need, and then understand and use it.

“So much is about how do you make the health information relevant to the community, how do you talk in a way that's engaging and inclusive? How do you build trust? Trust is a big issue right now.”

"This past year, not surprisingly, it’s been all about COVID-19," she says. "It’s important as a healthcare provider and medical editor to acknowledge that it's okay to have questions — for example, when it comes to getting the vaccine. We need to answer whatever questions people are asking and couch our information with, 'This is what we know based on the latest research,' explaining the logic behind why we arrived at our recommendations."

At Everyday Health, Cassoobhoy is helping to create content “where we can really address health literacy. The idea is to have health information out there for patients and audiences that is useful and empowers them to be proactive and make well-informed decisions about their health and healthcare,” she says.

Of course, that’s often easier said than done. So how do you recognize useful, trustworthy information and avoid misleading or incorrect medical news?

Cassoobhoy, not surprisingly, has some tips:

Check the date. Everything changes so quickly with COVID-19 information, so you want to know when the piece was published and updated to be sure the data is current.

Sources, sources, sources. Who is writing the piece, and what is their background? Can you check their qualifications and education? Are they a qualified doctor or health professional? Also, be sure to look at the website to make sure it’s legit. If studies are cited, make sure you can find the study directly. (Most data-driven sites will link to the journal article.) Make sure you can validate all of the information easily.

Be cautious. While there are many people on social media with compelling and inspiring personal stories, it's important to recognize the health information they share may not be vetted or apply to you.

Verify. Are you reading something that directly contradicts what you are finding on other websites? That’s a sign that you need to prove further. Reputable sites from organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), or your state’s department of public health are reliable sources. So is your own doctor.

Which brings up another issue: Whenever you talk to your doctor about anything, be sure to write down your questions before you arrive and have someone come to the appointment with you who can take notes. “I do that with my doctor, accountant, and lawyer, so I can review it after,” she says. “If you need to clarify anything, call back and talk to the doctor or nurse.”

This is exactly the sort of intel Cassoobhoy is eager to share with Everyday Health readers. “As a physician, it’s really important to make sure that all the content that’s created is medically accurate, practical, and has the appropriate tone,” she says. “It’s such a privilege to be able to do that. I’m excited, I’m honored, I’m ready to go.”

Images Powered by Shutterstock