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Doctors Often Overestimate Patients' Health Literacy
Date:10/17/2008

sked questions such as "Imagine that we flip a coin 1,000 times. What is your best guess about how many times the coin will come up heads in 1,000 flips?" (Answer: 500 times).

Most respondents were considered "innumerate," with 33 percent answering only one question correctly and 35 percent having no correct answers.

"Even after controlling for age, race, homelessness, English as a second language, income, and a host of other variables -- including educational level -- numeracy was shown to be an independent predictor of misunderstanding," Master said. "Being innumerate, in addition to being illiterate, results in high levels of misunderstanding that severely limit access to appropriate health care for millions of patients."

Master and his colleagues tried adding pictures to their screening tests to help illustrate the concept being discussed, but this did not improve understanding in a randomized prospective trial. However, in a third study, when the team designed a computer program in which a figure speaks to the patient, asking the IPSS questions, the level of understanding increased dramatically.

"The computer program improved understanding for all patients at all educational levels. Importantly, it even improved understanding for individuals who had no familiarity with computers," Master said.

More information

The National Cancer Institute has more about prostate cancer.



-- Kevin McKeever



SOURCE: American College of Surgeons, news release, Oct. 13, 2008


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