Physician notification of their diabetes patients' limited health literacy. A randomized, controlled trial

J Gen Intern Med. 2005 Nov;20(11):1001-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1525-1497.2005.00189.x.


Background: Many patients with chronic disease have limited health literacy (HL). Because physicians have difficulty identifying these patients, some experts recommend instituting screening programs in clinical settings. It is unclear if notifying physicians of patients' limited HL improves care processes or outcomes.

Objective: To determine whether notifying physicians of their patients' limited HL affects physician behavior, physician satisfaction, or patient self-efficacy.

Design: We screened all patients for limited HL and randomized physicians to be notified if their patients had limited HL skills.

Participants: Sixty-three primary care physicians affiliated with a public hospital and 182 diabetic patients with limited HL.

Measurements: After their visit, physicians reported their management strategies, satisfaction, perceived effectiveness, and attitudes toward HL screening. We also assessed patients' self-efficacy, feelings regarding HL screening's usefulness, and glycemic control.

Results: Intervention physicians were more likely than control physicians to use management strategies recommended for patients with limited HL (OR 3.2, P=.04). However, intervention physicians felt less satisfied with their visits (81% vs 93%, P=.01) and marginally less effective (38% vs 53%, P=.10). Intervention and control patients' post-visit self-efficacy scores were similar (12.6 vs 12.9, P=.6). Sixty-four percent of intervention physicians and 96% of patients felt HL screening was useful.

Conclusions: Physicians are responsive to receiving notification of their patients' limited HL, and patients support the potential utility of HL screening. However, instituting screening programs without specific training and/or system-wide support for physicians and patients is unlikely to be a powerful tool in improving diabetes outcomes.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Communication*
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / therapy*
  • Educational Status*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Hospitals, Public
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Office Visits
  • Outpatients
  • Patient Education as Topic*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Reading