Background: Health service providers should understand and attend to the health literacy needs of their population in view of the known association between low health literacy and poorer health outcomes. This study aimed to determine the health literacy profile of patients treated at a large private hospital in Melbourne, Australia, and any associations between this profile and socio-economic position, health behaviours, health status and use of hospital services. Methods: A mailed survey was sent to 9173 people aged ≥18 years with a hospital admission between February and October 2014. It included the Health Literacy Questionnaire (HLQ), a multidimensional tool comprising nine independent scales, and socio-demographic and clinical questions. For both respondents and non-respondents, we also extracted residential postcode and admission and follow up details from the Patient Administrative Services database. Differences in demographic, socio-economic and hospital use patterns between respondents and non-respondents were analysed using descriptive statistics. Regression-tests were used to identify differences in health literacy between socio-economic subgroups, with the magnitude of these differences determined using Cohen's d effect sizes. Results: There were 3121 respondents (response rate: 35% excluding 154 returned invitations), the majority born in Australia (74.6%) and living in areas of high socio-economic advantage. Respondents were slightly older than non-respondents (mean (SD) age 65.6 (17.0) versus 60.6 (20.8) years) and included proportionately less females (51.9 versus 59.1%) but were similar with regard to other socio-demographic factors and health service use. Participants who did not speak English at home, reported lower scores across several HLQ scales, including those that measure health provider support and engagement. Those who smoked and reported low physical activity had lower scores for actively managing their health. No relationship was seen between HLQ scale scores and use of hospital services. Conclusions: Based upon the health literacy profile of a large cohort of patients attending a large private hospital, we found no relationship between HLQ scale scores and use of hospital services. However we did identify significant health literacy needs particularly among patients whose primary language at home was not English and patients needing assistance completing the survey. Identifying ways of addressing these needs may improve patient outcomes.
- Health equity
- Health literacy
- Health Literacy Questionnaire