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NIH Receives Awards for Using Plain Language

By Mike Coogan

The National Partnership for Reinventing Government recently presented four NIH components with awards for clearly and concisely conveying important health messages to Americans.

In a January ceremony at the White House Conference Center, the NPR gave "Creativity Awards" to NIA for its exercise guide for older adults; NCI for its clinical trials informed consent template; and NEI for its traveling exhibit on low vision. The NPR also presented the National Library of Medicine with a Plain Language Award for its user-friendly online database of clinical trials.

"These prestigious awards from NPR are a reflection of the NIH community's ongoing efforts to communicate clearly," said Karen O'Steen, director of NIH's Executive Secretariat and chairperson of the NIH plain language coordinating committee. "They are a tribute to NIH and the individual institutes and are well deserved."

NIA's Exercise Guide for Older People — For years, information on the benefits of exercise for older people was mostly hidden behind research terminology in medical journals; the "jargon barrier" needed to be crossed. Enter the NIA. Its 100-page, illustrated patient education guide, Exercise: A Guide From the National Institute on Aging, tells older people exactly which exercises to do and demonstrates how to do them safely. The free guide can be obtained by calling NIA's toll free information line at 800-222-2225. The document is also available on the NIA web site: An accompanying video is available at the NIH R&W stores.

An NIA exercise guide was cited as a model of plain language success by the National Partnership for Reinventing Government.

NCI's Informed Consent Template — NCI developed a set of recommendations for simplifying its informed consent documents that has been met with widespread acclaim from patients, investigators, physicians, nurses, ethicists and institutional review boards that oversee clinical trials. "The informed consent template is being used by a majority of cancer researchers funded by the NCI; numerous federal and private research sponsors, such as the pharmaceutical industry; and other institutes at NIH," said Mary McCabe, NCI's director of the Office of Education and Special Initiatives. The template can be found on the web at

NEI's Traveling Low Vision Exhibit — To help inform people with low vision that there are steps they can take to live full and more independent lives, NEI has introduced the Eye Site: A Traveling Exhibit on Low Vision for Shopping Centers that will make its way to shopping malls around the country during the next several years. The exhibit, part of NEI's Low Vision Education Program, includes five colorful kiosks designed to attract a cross-section of the population, from young people to senior citizens. It includes information in Spanish as well as audio presentations. For more information, visit the web site at

Visitors stroll through NEI's traveling low vision exhibit, which is on tour for several years to shopping malls throughout the country.

NIH's Clinical Trials Database — NLM has established an easy-to-use comprehensive database — — of both federally and privately funded clinical trials that can be accessed by patients, family members and the public. "The database functions as an informational lifeline of experimental treatments for individuals with life-threatening diseases," said Dr. Alexa McCray, director of the Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications, who led a team composed of NIH institutes and centers that developed the database. "It is an innovative tool that makes available to the public a wealth of research information."

She said there are about 5,200 trials in the system, of which about 80 percent are NIH-sponsored trials. "The database will eventually include clinical trials supported or conducted by other government agencies such as the Veterans Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the private sector," she added.

Since its launch in February 2000, "we've had about 19.3 million hits on the site," McCray said. "That represents anywhere between 4,500-5,000 users per day. And we've received good feedback from people using the system and finding what they need."

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