How the stigma of low literacy can impair patient-professional spoken interactions and affect health: Insights from a qualitative investigation

22 Aug 2013 | Partners in Care

A considerable body of research has reported associations between low literacy and less appropriate access to healthcare services, lower likelihood of self-managing health conditions well, and poorer health outcomes.

This two stage qualitative study explores the perspectives of people with low literacy to help explain how low literacy can lead to poor health, and to consider how to improve the ability of health services to meet their needs.

In-depth individual interviews followed by focus groups to confirm analysis and develop suggestions for service improvements. A purposive sample of 29 adults with English as their first language who had sought help with literacy was recruited from an Adult Learning Centre in the UK.

Over and above the well-documented difficulties that people with low literacy can have with the written information and complex explanations and instructions they encounter as they use health services, the stigma of low literacy had significant negative implications for participants' spoken interactions with healthcare professionals.  Some communication difficulties were apparently perpetuated or exacerbated because participants limited their conversational engagement and used a variety of strategies to cover up their low literacy that could send misleading signals to health professionals.

The authors conclude that, as policies increasingly emphasise the need for patients' participation, services need to simplify the literacy requirements of service use and health professionals need to offer non-judgemental (universal) literacy-sensitive support to promote positive healthcare experiences and outcomes.

 

Easton, P., et al. (2013). How the stigma of low literacy can impair patient-professional spoken interactions and affect health: Insights from a qualitative investigation. BMC Health Services Research, 13:319

Last updated 15/11/2019