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Low Health Literacy Linked to Poorer Health Outcomes

Limited health literacy correlated with more hospitalizations and higher use of emergency care

TUESDAY, July 19 (HealthDay News) -- Limited health literacy is associated with poorer health outcomes and reduced use of health care services, according to a review published in the July 19 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Nancy D. Berkman, Ph.D., from RTI International in Research Triangle Park, N.C., and colleagues reviewed available literature to investigate the impact of low health literacy on health outcomes, costs, and the use of health care services. Data were collected from 111 studies, of which 96 were relevant and of good or fair quality. The studies focused on health literacy (98 from 2003 to 2011), numeracy (22 from 1966 to 2011), or both (nine).

The investigators found that low health literacy was consistently correlated with a higher number of hospitalizations, increased use of emergency care, poorer ability to demonstrate taking medications, interpret labels and health messages, and lower receipt of mammography screening and influenza vaccines. Among elderly persons, low health literacy was correlated with lower overall health status and higher mortality rates. Racial variances for some outcomes were linked to poor health literacy. The relationship between numeracy and health outcomes could not be established due to the low number of studies or inconsistent findings among studies.

"Low health literacy can play a substantial role in the interrelationship among patient characteristics, use of health care services, and resulting health outcomes," the authors write.

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