Implementing a health literacy assessment

Limited health literacy results in poor outcomes.


Hospitalists regularly treat patients with limited health literacy, and in many cases, the hospitalist may not even be aware of it. “Patients are unlikely to know or, more importantly, disclose their limited health literacy status,” according to a recent study.1 But hospitalists certainly see its effects: Limited health literacy often results in poor outcomes and high rates of readmittance.

“We know patients with limited health literacy are common and that they have poor health outcomes,” said study coauthor Robert Leverence, MD. “We also know there are ways to mitigate those outcomes. For that reason, we believe screening is important. In our study, we showed such routine screening is feasible in a large teaching hospital.”

The study describes the implementation of a hospital-wide routine health literacy assessment at an academic medical center initiated by nurses and applied to all adult inpatients. “We incorporated the health literacy screen and care plan into our electronic health record,” the authors wrote. “When a patient screens positive for limited health literacy, two automated responses are triggered: a one-time alert on chart entry for all users ... and a nursing care plan containing relevant educational recommendations.”

“To me it is a cringe-worthy event to give a 10-page AVS to a patient who can’t read,” Dr. Leverence added. “Health literacy screening allows us to tailor the discharge process to meet the needs of the individual patient. Once these patients are identified, then appropriate efforts can be efficiently deployed.”

Those efforts might include, at discharge, offering easy-to-read materials and teach-back, and having a caregiver in the room and a pharmacist performing bedside medication education.


1. Warring C, Pinkney J, Delvo-Favre E, et al. “Implementation of a Routine Health Literacy Assessment at an Academic Medical Center.” J Healthc Qual. doi: 10.1097/JHQ.0000000000000116

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