Rationale: Although inadequate health literacy has been associated with lower asthma medication knowledge and worse metered-dose inhaler (MDI) technique, the relationship between health literacy and the capacity to learn asthma self-management skills is unknown.
Objectives: In this prospective cohort study of adults hospitalized for severe asthma exacerbations at two inner-city hospitals, we examined the relationship between inadequate health literacy and difficulties learning and retaining instructions about discharge medications and appropriate MDI technique.
Methods: At hospital discharge, participants received one-on-one, 30-min, guideline-based, written and oral instruction about their asthma discharge regimen as well as appropriate MDI technique.
Measurements and main results: Seventy-three patients were enrolled. Inadequate health literacy was identified in 16 (22%) participants. Before instruction, inadequate health literacy was associated with lower asthma medication knowledge (5.2/10 vs. 7.2/10, p < 0.001) and worse MDI technique (3.2/6 vs. 3.9/6, p = 0.03). However, inadequate health literacy was not associated with difficulty learning (p = 0.33) or retaining (p = 0.35) instructions about the discharge regimen. Similarly, inadequate health literacy was not associated with difficulty learning (p = 0.26) or retaining (p = 0.97) appropriate MDI technique. Results were similar in multivariable models adjusted for demographic characteristics and asthma severity indicators.
Conclusions: These findings suggest that inadequate health literacy is a surmountable barrier to learning and remembering key asthma self-management skills.