Examining the Relationship between Health Literacy, Health Numeracy, and Patient Portal Use

Appl Clin Inform. 2022 May;13(3):692-699. doi: 10.1055/s-0042-1751239. Epub 2022 Jul 6.


Objectives: The objective of this study is to investigate the relationships between health literacy and numeracy (HLN) and patient portal use, measured in inpatient and outpatient settings.

Methods: Using data collected as part of a pragmatic randomized controlled trial conducted across the inpatient population of a U.S.-based academic medical center, the present study evaluated the relationships between patients' perceptions of health literacy and their skills, interpreting medical information with metrics of engagement with patient portals.

Results: Self-reported levels of HLN for patients in the study sample (n = 654) were not significantly associated with inpatient portal use as measured by frequency of use or the number of different inpatient portal functions used. Use of the outpatient version of the portal over the course of 6 months following hospital discharge was also not associated with HLN. A subsequent assessment of patients after 6 months of portal use postdischarge (response rate 40%) did not reveal any differences with respect to portal use and health numeracy; however, a significant increase in self-reported levels of health literacy was found at this point.

Conclusion: While previous studies have suggested that low HLN might represent a barrier to inpatient portal adoption and might limit engagement with outpatient portals, we did not find these associations to hold. Our findings, however, suggest that the inpatient setting may be effective in facilitating technology acceptance. Specifically, the introduction of an inpatient portal made available on hospital-provided tablets may have practical implications and contribute to increased adoption of patient-facing health information technology tools.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aftercare
  • Health Literacy*
  • Humans
  • Inpatients
  • Patient Discharge
  • Patient Portals*