Link between Literacy Level and Expensive Utilization of Health Services

Community learning organizations in Nova Scotia have long integrated health literacy modules into their Adult Learning Program (ALP) curricula. Programs help adults build their reading and comprehension skills using pill bottles, community health board brochures, and nutritional guides, among other materials. This is a good example of ‘double duty dollars’ where funding for adult education serves two purposes – adults learn literacy skills while they learn critical health literacy skills.

This is important work. Not surprisingly, there is good evidence that low health literacy has significant costs, both for the individual and the health system as a whole, and recent research has found a strong link between literacy level and expensive utilization of health services.In <a href="” target=”_blank”>The Economic Benefits of Literacy: Evidence and Implications for Public Policy Mike McCracken and T . Scott Murray write that:

“Adults with lower levels of literacy are less likely to have a regular health care provider and health insurance. These adults are also more likely to have trouble understanding written medical directions, have difficulty getting needed care, and as a result, have poorer health. They also use physician services, overnight hospital stays, and emergency rooms more frequently. These results are true when one controls for education, access, health, and socio-demographic characteristics.” p.33

For more information about health literacy from T. Scott Murray et al, see Understanding the Link Between Literacy, Health Literacy and Health (2012).

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