Low health literacy linked to death of acute heart failure patients after hospitalizations

Patients who can't understand health information and are hospitalized for acute heart failure are more likely to die after discharge, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Researchers reviewed the cases of 1,379 patients with acute heart failure who were discharged between November 2010 and June 2013. Among those patients, 324 (23.5 percent) had low health literacy and 403 (29.2 percent) died. With an average follow-up time of 21 months, patients with low health literacy (scoring below 10 on a scale from 3-15) were 34 percent more likely to have died than those with higher health literacy. The results were adjusted for age, sex, race, insurance status, education, other medical conditions, and how long they were in the hospital.

The study noted that healthcare providers often overestimate the health literacy skills of their patients. As a result, patients with unrecognized low health literacy may receive complex healthcare instructions and prescription regimens that they can't understand. These patients may also have difficulty communicating with healthcare providers, navigating the healthcare system, recognizing signs of health decline, and knowing when and who to contact when they do become ill, researchers noted. It may be helpful to have health literacy measured by nurses during routine care so providers can know which patients may need more help after discharge, said lead author Candace D. McNaughton, M.D., assistant professor of emergency medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, in the study announcement. But further research is needed to know exactly what to do for those with low health literacy, she said. Study