Literacy in patients with a chronic disease: systemic lupus erythematosus and the reading level of patient education materials

J Rheumatol. 1997 Dec;24(12):2335-9.


Objective: (1) To assess literacy in a sample of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE); (2) to evaluate the reading level of patient education materials specific to SLE; and (3) to compare patient literacy levels to the readability of materials written for patients with SLE.

Methods: Rapid Estimate of Adult Literacy in Medicine, a reading recognition test, was given to 94 patients with SLE. Socioeconomic status was assessed using Nam-Powers. Patient education materials frequently used with these patients were assessed for readability grade level.

Results: The patients with SLE were reading on an average 7th-8th grade level; their average educational level (last grade completed in school) was 11.9. The average socioeconomic status (SES) according to the Nam-Powers assessment was 43, indicating high school completed, no college, an income range of $5000-$10,000, and occupations such as household workers and laborers. Multiple linear regression revealed that race and education correlated with reading (p < 0.001), but age, sex, and SES did not. The readability of surveyed SLE patient education materials ranged from 7th-15th grade level. Eighty-nine percent were written at a 9th grade level or above and were therefore inappropriate for about half the patients surveyed.

Conclusion: Reading skills below high school level existed for 48% of patients surveyed, yet only 11% of SLE patient education materials were written below a 9th grade level. Current SLE patient education materials are written on too high a level for many patients. Identifying patients with low literacy may help provide more appropriate patient education and better medical care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Chronic Disease
  • Educational Status*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent
  • Linear Models
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / psychology*
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / rehabilitation
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pamphlets
  • Patient Education as Topic*
  • Reading*