Identifying Patients with Low or Limited Health Literacy
“Otolaryngologists should employ health literacy screening to identify patients who may require additional help navigating the healthcare system,” said Dr. Megwalu, who recently published another rare study that looked at health literacy in otolaryngology (Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2016;155:969–973).
Explore This IssueMay 2019
In the cross-sectional study, Dr. Megwalu and his colleague used the Brief Health Literacy Screen (BHLS), a formal measure of health literacy, to assess 316 adults treated at three of Stanford University’s tertiary adult otolaryngology clinic sites.
Ten percent of patients had inadequate health literacy, with more than 26% showing difficulty in at least one of three health literacy domains (i.e., filling out medical forms, reading medical material, or understanding written information about their medical condition). Socioeconomic factors linked to lower health literacy included less education (high school or lower), racial minority (except for Hispanic), and not having English as a primary language. Age and sex were not found to be linked to health literacy.
Along with using informal assessment in which physicians employ cues from the patient regarding their level of understanding and adherence to treatment plans (See “Red Flags for Low Health Literacy,” p. 16), Dr. Megwalu stressed the use of more formal tools such as the Brief Health Literacy Screen. Unlike many of the formal health literacy assessment measures, the screen “is easy to apply in clinical practice,” he said.
Health literacy has a substantial impact on treatment outcomes, and data from many of the studies cited above support the need for otolaryngologists to screen patients for health literacy. When physicians are aware of this need, patient outcomes improve.
Mary Beth Nierengarten is a freelance medical writer based in Minnesota.