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

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.

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Acknowledgments

The project described was supported by Award Number R01HL081257 from the National Heart, Lung, And Blood Institute and a supplement to that grant provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Heart, Lung, And Blood Institute or the National Institutes of Health.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they do not have a conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Jia-Rong Wu PhD, RN.

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Wu, JR., Holmes, G.M., DeWalt, D.A. et al. Low Literacy Is Associated with Increased Risk of Hospitalization and Death Among Individuals with Heart Failure. J GEN INTERN MED 28, 1174–1180 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11606-013-2394-4

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11606-013-2394-4

KEY WORDS

  • heart failure
  • outcomes
  • literacy