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Low Health Literacy Links to Healthcare Spending Confirmed

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, July 25, 2011

If healthcare providers are serious about reducing readmissions and improving outcomes, they must address health literacy, the lack of which leads to more emergency care and hospitalizations, less use of preventive services, and poorer medication compliance.

That's not exactly news; researchers have described similar results in 2004. But it has been reinforced by an updated and exhaustive analysis of 96 studies, described in the Annals of Internal Medicine by researchers for the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Nancy Berkman and colleagues of the Program on Healthcare Quality and Outcomes based at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill found that patients with low health literacy were less likely to identify all their medications, couldn't manage medications in a mock exercise, and if elderly, were less able to open and take their medications.

Patients with poorer literacy had more trouble interpreting labels and health messages even on nutrition labeling, were more likely depressed, and had higher all-cause rates of mortality.

They were less likely to get mammography screening and influenza immunizations. Additionally, there is increasing evidence that lower health literacy "can explain, or partially explain, racial disparities in health outcomes," Berkman wrote.

"Our updated review should enhance the public's awareness that low health literacy can play a substantial role in the interrelationship among patient characteristics, use of healthcare services and resulting health outcomes," the researchers concluded. "Finding ways to reduce the effects of low health literacy on health outcomes warrants the attention of policymakers, clinician sand other stakeholders."

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2 comments on "Low Health Literacy Links to Healthcare Spending Confirmed"


K. Gibson (7/27/2011 at 9:50 AM)
Inpatient education through media such as bedside television is helpful. This, as well as placement of TVs showing the same messages in outpatient clinics is part of what is done at Henry Ford Health System. More healthcare organizations should take this simple, low-cost step. Community outreach is also needed; classes in local schools could be offered for adults in the evenings, for example. Another approach is also vital. Educate the physician, and other caregivers, to be certain their patient understands everything about their care. Sure, they'll go over instructions quickly and ask if they're understood, but many patients are too afraid, embarrassed, or intimidated to speak up. Too many leave an appointment, or are discharged from a hospital stay, with a handful of Rxs and not a clue about the medications or follow up care. I do not think more research needs done here. Spend the money instead on making it work.

Gary Kolbeck (7/26/2011 at 6:05 PM)
This finding confirms that two federal mandates[INVALID]the "reach all patients" and "close the disparity gap"[INVALID]will largely determine the success of any healthcare provider's patient engagement strategy. Many tools have the capacity to reach the ideal patient. But some of the most vulnerable and highest-cost patient groups are difficult to reach outside the care setting, making it even more important that hospitals maximize opportunities during the inpatient stay. There is no doubt that patient interaction will evolve with emerging technologies, but hospitals shouldn't postpone patient engagement strategies to the indefinite future. Instead, they can make substantial strides in engaging and empowering patients by leveraging the television currently found in every patient room. Familiar technology combined with engaging video content and an interactive system provide an ideal solution for reaching patients with low health literacy.