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Health Literacy and Medical Consequences


Great article on health literacy and medical consequences in @amednews

The ABCs of health literacy

Many patients struggle to understand written health materials, as well as their physicians’ spoken instructions. Doctors can help their patients get the message.

By Kevin B. O’Reilly, amednews staff. Posted March 19, 2012.


“This literacy gap has medical consequences. A wide body of research has found that patients with poor literacy skills have much worse health outcomes than patients who can read well. They make more medication or treatment errors, are less compliant and are 50% likelier to be hospitalized, says the National Patient Safety Foundation. Low-literacy patients with chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and asthma know less about their conditions and how they should be treated or managed. These patients rack up four times more in annual medical costs than patients with higher reading ability, the foundation says.”

“Nearly 90% of U.S. adults are less than proficient in reading medical information.”

“3 of 4 of people with limited literacy do not tell their doctors about it.”

“14% Below basic level – Can circle date of upcoming medical appointment 22% Basic level – Can read clearly written pamphlet and explain value of screening test 53% Intermediate level – Can read over-the-counter medication label, identify drug interactions 12% Proficient level – Can define medical term after reading complex document”

“6 signs of limited health literacy”

“Patients with low health literacy may:

  • Fill in registration forms incompletely or inaccurately.
  • Frequently miss appointments.
  • Fail to follow through with laboratory tests, imaging tests or referrals to consultants.
  • Say they are taking their medication, even though lab tests or physiological parameters do not change in the expected fashion.
  • Say: “I forgot my glasses. I’ll read this when I get home”; “I forgot my glasses. Can you read this to me?”; or “Let me take this home so I can discuss it with my children.”
  • Be unable to name their medications, explain what they are for or tell when they are supposed to take them.”

More here:


“The Health Literacy of America’s Adults: Results From the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy,” U.S. Dept. of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, September 2006 (

“Health literacy and patient safety: Help patients understand: Manual for clinicians, Second edition,” American Medical Association Foundation, 2007 (

“Problematic Words in Health Research,” Health Literacy Out Loud Podcast (

“Language, literacy, and communication regarding medication in an anticoagulation clinic: A comparison of verbal vs. visual assessment,” Journal of Health Communication, October-November 2006 (

“Influence of Patient Literacy on the Effectiveness of a Primary Care-Based Diabetes Disease Management Program,” The Journal of the American Medical Association, Oct. 13, 2004 (

“Health Literacy Kit,” American Medical Association, 2007 (

“Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit,” Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, April 2010 (

American Academy of Family Physicians’ National Research Network study of the “Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit,” currently in design and development phase (”

Useful stuff for those of us who support end users and their health queations.






Posted on: April 8, 2012, 7:04 am Category: Uncategorized

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