Patient Literacy Problems Can Hinder Rheumatoid Arthritis Care

FRIDAY Dec. 17, 2010 -- Among people with rheumatoid arthritis, 11 percent of those surveyed didn't know what a rheumatologist is, even if they had been seeing one for quite a while.

In addition, more than one in 10 people surveyed couldn't decipher other medical words related to rheumatoid arthritis, such as "osteoporosis" and "cartilage."

Researchers who conducted the survey noted that previous findings have suggested that low levels of what is called health literacy could contribute to poorer health.

Nearly 200 people at a university rheumatology clinic took part in the survey. They were asked if they recognized general medical words and words linked specifically to rheumatology and arthritis.

The researchers found that 18 percent of those who took the general health literacy test showed signs of having an eighth-grade reading level or less, as did 24 percent of those who took the arthritis-specific test. But none had a reading level of third-grade or below, which is considered severely low literacy.

More than 10 percent of the people surveyed didn't recognize the words "diagnose" and "symptom," and 13 percent failed to recognize "anti-inflammatory," the investigators found. Many people were also unfamiliar with names of common drugs that treat arthritis.

Previous research has suggested that people with less education are more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis.

The new study, led by researcher Christopher J. Swearingen of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, is published in the December issue of JCR: Journal of Clinical Rheumatology.

"Low literacy may be a mutable risk factor for poor health and outcomes in rheumatic and other chronic diseases," the study authors wrote. "Reduction of literacy-related barriers may help to narrow widening disparities in health according to socioeconomic status."

More information

For more about rheumatoid arthritis, visit the U.S. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.

Posted: December 2010


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