Original Research

Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 28, Issue 9, pp 1174-1180

Low Literacy Is Associated with Increased Risk of Hospitalization and Death Among Individuals with Heart Failure

  • Jia-Rong WuAffiliated withSchool of Nursing, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Email author 
  • , George M. HolmesAffiliated withCecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, University of North Carolina at Chapel HillHealth Policy and Management, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • , Darren A. DeWaltAffiliated withCecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, University of North Carolina at Chapel HillDivision of General Internal Medicine, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • , Aurelia Macabasco-O’ConnellAffiliated withUCLA School of Nursing, University of California, Olive View–UCLA Medical Center Los Angeles
  • , Kirsten Bibbins-DomingoAffiliated withDivision of General Internal Medicine and Center for Vulnerable Populations, Department of Medicine at San Francisco General Hospital, University of California San Francisco
  • , Bernice RuoAffiliated withFeinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University
  • , David W. BakerAffiliated withFeinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University
  • , Dean SchillingerAffiliated withDivision of General Internal Medicine and Center for Vulnerable Populations, Department of Medicine at San Francisco General Hospital, University of California San Francisco
  • , Morris WeinbergerAffiliated withHealth Policy and Management, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    • , Kimberly A. BroucksouAffiliated withCarolina Meadows
    • , Brian ErmanAffiliated withCecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    • , Christine D. JonesAffiliated withDivision of General Internal Medicine, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    • , Crystal W. CeneAffiliated withDivision of General Internal Medicine, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    • , Michael PignoneAffiliated withCecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, University of North Carolina at Chapel HillDivision of General Internal Medicine, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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ABSTRACT

BACKGROUND

Low literacy increases the risk for many adverse health outcomes, but the relationship between literacy and adverse outcomes in heart failure (HF) has not been well studied.

METHODS

We studied a cohort of ambulatory patients with symptomatic HF (NYHA Class II-IV within the past 6 months) who were enrolled in a randomized controlled trial of self-care training recruited from internal medicine and cardiology clinics at four academic medical centers in the US. The primary outcome was combined all-cause hospitalization or death, with a secondary outcome of hospitalization for HF. Outcomes were assessed through blinded interviews and subsequent chart reviews, with adjudication of cause by a panel of masked assessors. Literacy was measured using the short Test of Functional Health Literacy in Adults. We used negative binomial regression to examine whether the incidence of the primary and secondary outcomes differed according to literacy.

RESULTS

Of the 595 study participants, 37 % had low literacy. Mean age was 61, 31 % were NYHA class III/IV at baseline, 16 % were Latino, and 38 % were African-American. Those with low literacy were older, had a higher NYHA class, and were more likely to be Latino (all p < 0.001). Adjusting for site only, participants with low literacy had an incidence rate ratio (IRR) of 1.39 (95 % CI: 0.99, 1.94) for all-cause hospitalization or death and 1.36 (1.11, 1.66) for HF-related hospitalization. After adjusting for demographic, clinical, and self-management factors, the IRRs were 1.31 (1.06, 1.63) for all-cause hospitalization and death and 1.46 (1.20, 1.78) for HF-related hospitalization.

CONCLUSIONS

Low literacy increased the risk of hospitalization for ambulatory patients with heart failure. Interventions designed to mitigate literacy-related disparities in outcomes are warranted.

KEY WORDS

heart failure outcomes literacy