Health Care Literacy Might Affect Mortality Rates Of Elderly US Residents

Armen Hareyan's picture
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People ages 65 and older who have difficulty comprehending basichealth-related material such as prescription bottles and appointmentslips are more likely to die within six years than people who canunderstand the information, according to a study published Monday inthe Archives of Internal Medicine, the AP/Boston Herald reports (AP/Boston Herald, 7/24). The study, conducted at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine and led by internist David Baker, involved 3,260 Medicare beneficiaries in managed care plans in five cities.

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Thebeneficiaries were interviewed in 1997, and information was collectedabout their race, ethnicity, education, income, weight, chronic medicalconditions and health-related behaviors such as smoking and exercise (USA Today,7/23). Beneficiaries also were given a test to evaluate their abilityto understand appointment slips, prescription labels and instructionson how to prepare for an X-ray.

The study found thatone-fourth of the beneficiaries were considered medically illiterate.According to the study, nearly 40% of those considered medicallyilliterate died by the conclusion of the study in 2003, compared with19% of those in the medically literate group. After factoring inbeneficiaries' health at the beginning of the study and othervariables, researchers found that medically illiterate beneficiarieswere 50% more likely to die than those who were medically literate -- anumber "much higher" than the researchers expected, Baker said.

Accordingto Baker, the inability to understand medical information andinstructions makes it difficult for beneficiaries to manage chronicconditions, which can lead to more serious health problems. JoanneSchwartzberg, director of aging and community health at the American Medical Association, said that evidence shows that as many as 90 million U.S. residents have trouble understanding medical information (AP/Boston Herald, 7/24).
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