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New Report on Health Literacy

New Report on Health Literacy

September 8, 2006

New and compelling data on numbers of Americans who have difficulty understanding basic health information was released yesterday. Here's a summary from the Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report:

Fewer than one in six U.S. adults have proficient health literacy, according to report released on Wednesday by the National Center for Education Statistics, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports. For the report, researchers analyzed data from the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy and determined the relationship between demographic characteristics and literacy. Researchers compared gender, race, age and educational levels of 19,000 U.S. adults who took the series of tests, which had a possible total score of 500 points. According to the report, most participants had intermediate health literacy, which mean that most U.S. adults will find it difficult to use health-related materials accurately and consistently, Rima Rudd of the Harvard School of Public Health said. The report also finds:

>Women had an average score of 248 points on the tests, compared with 242 points for men;
>Participants older than age 65 had lower health literacy levels than younger participants;
>Whites and Asians had higher health literacy levels than blacks, Hispanics and American Indians; and
>Hispanics had lower health literacy levels than any other racial group.

The report indicates that health care providers, health insurers and pharmaceutical companies must improve their communication skills to ensure patients understand basic medical instructions, Rudd said. She added, "They're writing things at a level in the health field that is very difficult for the general public to work with."

Folks who think providing statistical information to consumers is the answer to the health care crisis need to face up to these numbers. Consumer driven health policies, transparency, personal health records, and all the rest have to confront the realities of those who will be left behind.