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Residents' Ability to Identify Patients with Poor Literacy Skills

Bass, Pat F. III MD; Wilson, John F. PhD; Griffith, Charles H. MD; Barnett, Don R. MD

Academic Medicine:
Special Theme: Medical Errors: RESEARCH REPORTS

Purpose. To determine whether residents could identify patients with poor literacy skills based on clinical interactions during a continuity clinic visit. The authors hypothesized residents would overestimate patients' literacy abilities and fail to recognize many patients at risk for poor literacy.

Method. The Rapid Estimate of Adult Literacy in Medicine—Revised (REALM-R) was administered to screen patients for potential literacy problems. Residents were asked “Do you feel this patient has a literacy problem?” and answered yes or no. Continuity adjusted chi-square was used to test for overestimation of literacy abilities by residents.

Results. REALM-R scores and residents' evaluations of literacy were available for 182 patients. The residents believed 10% of patients (18) had literacy problems based on their clinical interactions. Only three patients passing the literacy screen were incorrectly identified as at risk for literacy. Of the 90% of patients (164) the residents perceived to have no literacy problem, 36% (59) failed the literacy screen.

Conclusion. Resident physicians overestimated the literacy abilities of their patients. A significant portion of these residents' patients may not have the skills to effectively interact with the health care system and are at increased risk for adverse outcomes.

Author Information

Dr. Bass is assistant professor, Departments of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics, University of Louisville School of Medicine, Louisville, Kentucky. At the time of the study, he was a faculty development fellow, University of Kentucky College of Medicine, Lexington. Dr. Wilson is professor, Department of Behavioral Sciences, Dr. Griffith is associate professor, and Dr. Barnett is staff physician, Colmery—O'Neil VA Medical Center, Topeka, Kansas.

Correspondence and requests for reprints should be addressed to Dr. Bass, University of Louisville School of Medicine, Office of Curriculum Development & Evaluation, Louisville, KY 40292; telephone: (502) 852-1864; fax: (502) 852-2368; e-mail: 〈〉.

© 2002 Association of American Medical Colleges