Health literacy: What is it and why is it important to measure?

Rachelle Buchbinder, Roy Batterham, Sabina Ciciriello, Stan Newman, Ben Horgan, Erin Ueffing, Tamara Rader, Peter Tugwell, Richard Harry Osborne

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This report summarizes the proceedings of the first Outcome Measures in Rheumatology Clinical Trials (OMERACT) Health Literacy Special Interest Group workshop at the OMERACT 10 conference. Health literacy refers to an individual s capacity to seek, understand, and use health information. Discussion centered on the relevance of health literacy to the rheumatology field; whether measures of health literacy were important in the context of clinical trials and routine care; and, if so, whether disease-specific measures were required. A nominal group process involving 27 workshop participants, comprising a patient group (n = 12) and a healthcare professional and researcher group (n = 15), confirmed that health literacy encompasses a broad range of concepts and skills that existing scales do not measure. It identified the importance and relevance of patient abilities and characteristics, but also health professional factors and broader contextual factors. Sixteen themes were identified: access to information; cognitive capacity; disease; expression/communication; finances; health professionals; health system; information; literacy/numeracy; management skills; medication; patient approach; dealing with problems; psychological characteristics; social supports; and time. Each of these was divided further into subthemes of one or more of the following: knowledge, attitude, attribute, relationship, skill, action, or context. There were virtually no musculoskeletal-specific statements, suggesting that a generic health literacy tool in rheumatology is justified. The detailed concepts across themes provided new and systematic insight into what needs to be done to improve health literacy and consequently reduce health inequalities. These data will be used to derive a more comprehensive measure of health literacy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1791 - 1797
Number of pages7
JournalThe Journal of Rheumatology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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