Background: Low literacy skills are common and associated with a variety of poor health outcomes. This may be particularly important in patients with chronic illnesses such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that require appropriate inhaler technique to maintain quality of life and avoid exacerbations.
Objective: To explore the impact of a literacy-sensitive self-management intervention on inhaler technique scores in COPD patients and to determine if effects differ by literacy.
Design: Randomized controlled trial.
Participants: Ninety-nine patients with COPD.
Intervention: Patients were randomly assigned to a one-on-one self-management educational intervention or usual care. The intervention focused on inhaler technique, smoking cessation, and using a COPD action plan.
Main measures: At baseline, an inhaler technique assessment, literacy assessment, health-related quality of life questionnaires, and pulmonary function tests were completed. Inhaler technique was re-evaluated after two to eight weeks.
Key results: Mean age 63, 65% female, 69% Caucasian, moderate COPD severity on average, 36% with low literacy, moderately impaired health-related quality of life, and similar baseline metered dose inhaler technique scores. Patients in the intervention group had greater mean improvement from baseline in metered dose inhaler technique score compared to those in the usual care group (difference in mean change 2.1, 95% CI 1.1, 3.0). The patients in the intervention group also had greater mean improvements in metered dose inhaler technique score than those in the usual care group whether they had low health literacy (difference in mean change 2.8, 95% CI 0.6, 4.9) or higher health literacy (1.8, 95% CI 0.7, 2.9).
Conclusions: A literacy-sensitive self-management intervention can lead to improvements in inhaler technique, with benefits for patients with both low and higher health literacy.