Do patient preferences for health information vary by health literacy or numeracy? A qualitative assessment

J Health Commun. 2012:17 Suppl 3:109-21. doi: 10.1080/10810730.2012.712616.


Seeking health information can be a complicated process for a patient. Patients must know the topic of interest, where to look or ask, how to assess and comprehend, and how to evaluate the credibility and trustworthiness of the sources. In this study, the authors describe preferences of patients with multiple risk factors for cardiovascular disease with varying health literacy and numeracy abilities for receiving health information. Participants were recruited from 2 health care systems. Health literacy and numeracy were assessed and participants completed an orally administered survey consisting of open-ended questions about obtaining health information and preferences for health information. In-depth interviews were conducted with a subset of participants. A diverse sample of 150 individuals (11.3% Latino, 37.3% African American, 44.7% with income less than $15,000/year) participated. Most participants had adequate functional health literacy, while 65% had low numeracy skills. Regardless of health literacy or numeracy ability, participants overwhelmingly preferred to receive health information during a face-to-face conversation with their health care provider. While individuals with adequate functional health literacy identified a variety of health information sources, actions are needed to ensure multiple modalities are available and are in plain, clear language that reinforces patients' understanding and application of information to health behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cardiovascular Diseases
  • Female
  • Health Literacy / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Information Seeking Behavior*
  • Male
  • Mathematics*
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Preference / statistics & numerical data*
  • Primary Health Care
  • Qualitative Research
  • Risk Assessment