Being able to comprehend health information following hospitalization for acute heart failure could be a matter of life and death, according to a recent study in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
The study, published April 29, found that heart failure patients who have trouble understanding health information are more likely to die after being hospitalized for the condition. This makes it crucial that healthcare providers have a clear idea of patients’ healthcare literacy levels, an American Heart Association news release stated.
The study involved tracking deaths among 1,379 patients with an average age of 63 who were released after being hospitalized for acute heart failure. Patients in the study were administered the Brief Health Literacy Screen. Among questions asked in the screening is how confident patients are in filling out medical forms themselves, whether they need help with reading and whether they have an understanding of medical information, the news release said. Researchers pointed out that even patients who are highly educated and highly literate could have trouble reading and understanding healthcare materials.
“The treatment for heart failure can be complex and difficult to understand,” lead author Candace D. McNaughton, MD, MPH, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., said in the news release. It’s important for patients to let their healthcare providers know if they don’t understand the directions they were given for their medications, salt and fluid intake, and weight monitoring,”
Researchers found patients who had low health literacy, meaning they scored below 10 on a scale from 3 to 15, were 34% more likely to have died than patients with higher health literacies, the news release said. Researchers also found that patients with low health literacy were more likely to be older and male and insured by government health insurance, the news release said. The study showed about 30% of patients studied were readmitted 90 days after being discharged from the hospital, with about 14.6% of patients visiting the ED, though researchers do not believe health literacy affected those incidents.
Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the world and the leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the American Heart Association. Heart disease kills more than 375,000 Americans a year, according to the American Heart Association. In 2011, about one in three people in the U.S. died from heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases, the association said.
“Having health literacy measured by nurses during routine care may be an important way for us to determine which patients may need more help after discharge,” McNaughton said. “However, we still need to determine what exactly to do for those with low health literacy. Should we simplify their medication regimen? Follow them in the outpatient setting more frequently or sooner after discharge? Give them extra resources like home healthcare? We don’t know the answers to those questions yet.”
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