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What your patients don`t know can hurt them: Results of a Health Literacy survey

October 10, 2017

October is Health Literacy Month—although you might not know it as half of hospitals and health care centers don’t observe it, according to the results of a recent survey by MDLinx. Which can be problematic because about half of patients don’t demonstrate competent health literacy skills and there are indications that better health literacy leads to better health, according to a study from the US Department of Education.


“Health literacy,” as defined by the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, “is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.”

For this survey, MDLinx polled physicians by e-mail to ask about their patients’ health literacy skills and their employers’ observance of Health Literacy Month. Results of the survey were gathered from more than 60 physicians—a non-representative sample of a variety of specialists and primary care physicians from numerous states—and more than a dozen physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and nurses.


About two-thirds of respondents (65.1%) consider themselves familiar or very familiar with the issue of patients’ health literacy. About one in seven respondents (13.8%) said they weren’t sure about it, while one-tenth of respondents (10.6%) said they’re not very familiar with the issue. Another one-tenth said they hadn’t even thought about the health literacy of their patients.


Health literacy has important implications. When health literacy is low, a communication barrier arises between patients and providers. But in addition, low health literacy is also linked to poor health outcomes, such as increased rates of hospitalization, lower rates of disease screening, and disproportionately high rates of disease and mortality, according to results from the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL), performed by the US Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.