Measuring health literacy in emergency departments

Muhammad Alqudah, Maree Johnson, Leanne Cowin, Ajesh George


Background: Literacy and health literacy are important concepts that are related to how important health care messages are understood by patients. Emergency nurses are engaged in health promotion and require an understanding of the patient’s health literacy. To assist emergency nurses in assessing a patient’s level of health literacy a series of valid and reliable health literacy measurement tools have been presented. The aim of this paper is to nominate one of these tools to be used by emergency nurses in testing individual and group levels of health literacy.

Methods: Databases searched included Scopus, Science direct, PubMed, PsycINFO and Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC). Included articles were published between 1990 and 2011, English language only, and articles that discussed word recognition tools and tools that take five minutes or less to administer resulting in sixteen articles.

Results: The Rapid Estimate of Adult Literacy in Medicine-Short Format (REALM-SF) has been used successfully within an emergency setting to identify patients’ level of health literacy and to supply appropriate health information. This tool was found by nursing staff to be easily administered, and more acceptable when used in private areas. However, further research within varying age groups is recommended.

Conclusion: Most of the available tools are related to each other and have the ability to measure varying levels of health literacy. The REALM-SF is a simple quick approach to measuring health literacy in busy clinical settings. Emergency nurses require training in administering these tests in a non-threatening and accurate manner.


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Journal of Nursing Education and Practice

ISSN 1925-4040 (Print)   ISSN 1925-4059 (Online)

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