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ACS: Doctors Overestimate Patients' Level of Literacy

Lack of health literacy and numeracy undermines efficacy of written screening tests

TUESDAY, Oct. 14 (HealthDay News) -- Doctors overestimate the literacy and numeracy of their patients when giving them written screening tools, according to two papers presented at the 2008 Clinical Congress of the American College of Surgeons, held from Oct. 12 to 16 in San Francisco.

Viraj A. Master, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, conducted a study of 300 men with an average age of 61 and an average reading level of fourth grade, and found that only 16 percent understood all seven questions on the International Prostate Symptom Score, and only 38 percent understood more than half of the questions.

Master and colleagues also conducted a study on the numeracy level of 266 patients with an average age of 58, which revealed that only 16 percent correctly answered all three numeracy questions and only 31 percent were categorized as numerate. Numeracy was, independent of literacy, a predictor of misunderstanding, the researchers found.

"Being innumerate, in addition to being illiterate, results in high levels of misunderstanding that severely limit access to appropriate health care for millions of patients," Master noted in a statement. "There is a true epidemic of health illiteracy in this country. Do not assume that your patients are literate with either prose or numeracy."

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