SENIORS: Many Stumped by Medical Instructions
More than one-third of Medicare HMO members are unable to adequately read and understand medical instructions, according to a study published in this week's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. The Prudential Center for Health Care Research interviewed more than 3,000 enrollees in the Prudential Medicare HMO, assessing seniors' "health literacy" by asking them to read a prescription drug bottle and an appointment slip. Participants were also asked to read a sample set of instructions given to a patient before a stomach X-ray, written at a fourth-grade reading level, and a passage on Medicaid, written at a 10th-grade level (Stobbe, Tampa Tribune, 2/10). The researchers found that one-third of English-speaking participants had low health literacy while 54% of the Spanish-speaking participants had low health literacy, even though the testing was conducted in the senior's native language. Lower health literacy was associated with the age of the participant, as 16% under age 69 had low literacy, compared to 58% of those over age 85. "These findings are cause for concern since aging seniors are more likely to need medical care than any other population," said Dr. Adele Franks, vice president of the research center. Noting that seniors are also "more likely to be prescribed medications with a variety of dosage instructions," she urged "physicians, hospitals and other organizations caring for the elderly ... to recognize that low health literacy in seniors can significantly impair their understanding of even the most basic instructions" (Prudential release, 2/9).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.