Poor Health Insurance Literacy Linked to Avoidance of Health Care Services

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Renuka Tipirneni, MD, MSc Assistant Professor Holder of the Grace H. Elta MD Department of Internal Medicine Early Career Endowment Award 2019-2024 University of Michigan Department of Internal Medicine, Divisions of General Medicine and Hospital Medicine, and Institute for Healthcare Policy & Innovation Ann Arbor, MI 48109Renuka Tipirneni, MD, MSc
Assistant Professor
Holder of the Grace H. Elta MD Department of Internal Medicine Early Career Endowment Award 2019-2024
University of Michigan Department of Internal Medicine
Divisions of General Medicine and Hospital Medicine, and
Institute for Healthcare Policy & Innovation
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response:  Navigating health insurance and health care choices is challenging and requires significant health insurance literacy (knowledge and application of health insurance concepts). We looked at the association between U.S. adults’ health insurance literacy and avoidance of health care services due to perceived cost.

We found that 30% of people we surveyed reported delayed or foregone care because of perceived cost, and that those with lower health insurance literacy reported significantly greater avoidance of both preventive and nonpreventive health care services.

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Patients With Lower Health Literacy May Find Electronic Health Care Portals Challenging

Dr. Courtney Lyles Ph.D. Assistant Professor UCSF School of MedicineMedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Dr. Courtney Lyles Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
UCSF School of Medicine

Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Dr. Lyles: In our commentary (http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.1001852), we describe the Meaningful Use program sponsored by the federal government to incentivize healthcare systems to implement electronic health records (EHRs).  This Meaningful Use program also includes financial incentives for healthcare systems who can get substantial proportions of their patient population to access their electronic health records – that is, by logging into an online patient portal website to view medical information like lab results or immunization lists or to perform a healthcare task like requesting a medication refill or messaging their provider.  Because there are billions of dollars at stake in this program for EHR implementation, there is a lot of attention on this issue right now.  Many thought leaders are discussing how we can transform healthcare by digitizing medical information and connecting with patients in their everyday life outside of office or hospital visits.  Portals are key to a lot of changes we might make in healthcare delivery in an attempt to increase convenience and satisfaction for patients.  Perhaps most importantly, these online portal websites are also one of the first health technologies that will be relatively uniformly distributed across healthcare settings, from private doctor’s offices to public clinics/hospitals serving vulnerable patient populations.

However, our main message is that we in the medical and healthcare fields should be paying more attention to how patients are able to understand and use the information provided through portal websites.  There is a lot of evidence that patients who have lower education/income, are from racial/ethnic minority groups, or have limited health literacy are significantly less likely to use the existing portal websites.  There is also evidence that portal websites are not extremely usable or accessible, which is an additional barrier for those with communication barriers like lower literacy or limited English proficiency.  Therefore, we don’t want widespread EHR implementation to result in only the most well-resourced individuals gaining the potential benefits of portal access.

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Low Health Literacy Linked To Increased Mortality

Candace McNaughton, MD MPH Assistant Professor Department of Emergency Medicine Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TNMedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Candace McNaughton, MD MPH
Assistant Professor
Department of Emergency Medicine
Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN

Medical Research: What is the background for this study?

Dr. McNaughton: Heart failure affects more than 5 million Americans, is a frequent cause of hospitalization, and by 2030 is projected to cost as much $70 billion, so there is a lot of interest in helping patients with heart failure manage their condition. Health literacy, or the ability to use and understand healthcare information, is important for all patients, but the stakes are very high for patients with heart failure. Some people who are highly literate or highly educated in other areas may have difficulty reading and understanding healthcare information. Patients with lower health literacy skills may 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.

Medical Research: What are the main findings?

Dr. McNaughton: To our knowledge, this is the first study in which health literacy was measured by nurses when patients were admitted to the hospital for heart failure. Nurses asked patients three questions about whether they have problems learning about their medical condition, their confidence filling out medical forms, and how often they have someone help them read hospital materials. With these three questions, information about the health literacy level of individual patients can be made easily available their healthcare providers.

We found that among 1,379 patients hospitalized for acute heart failure, those with low health literacy had 32% greater risk of death compared to patients with a literacy score of 10 or higher, even after adjusting age, sex, race, insurance status, education, other medical conditions, and how long they were in the hospital.  Continue reading