Facts & Statistics

Did you know that health literacy is one of the best predictors of your health status? Did you know that nearly one out of two people suffers from low health literacy? Did you know that health literacy costs the federal government billions of dollars each year? To find out more facts about health literacy, read on!

  • Health literacy is a stronger predictor of a person’s health than age, income, employment status, education level, and race (Ad Hoc Committee on Health Literacy for the Council on Scientific Affairs, Journal of the American Medical Association [JAMA]).
  • More than 46 percent of American adults are functionally illiterate in dealing with the health care system, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. The problem is greatest among older Americans and patients with overall poor health.
  • Seventy-three billion dollars in federal health care expenditures can be attributed to low health literacy skills, mostly due to longer hospital stays, according to a study by the National Academy on an Aging Society.
  • Studies show that patients forget up to 80% of what their doctor tells them as soon as they leave the office, and nearly 50% of what they do remember is recalled incorrectly (Journal of The Royal Society of Medicine).
  • A study of two public hospitals in Atlanta showed that 26% of respondents could not understand when their next appointment was scheduled; 42% did not comprehend instructions to “take medication on an empty stomach;” 49% could not determine if they were eligible for free care by reading hospital financial aid forms; and 60% could not understand a standard consent form (JAMA).
  • Two-thirds of American adults age 60 and over have inadequate or marginal literacy skills, and 81% of patients age 60 and older at a public hospital could not read or understand basic materials such as prescription labels(JAMA).
  • Half of all Medicare/Medicaid recipients read below a fifth-grade level (Center for Health Care Strategies).
  • Low health literacy is linked to higher rates of hospitalization and higher use of expensive emergency services (Agency for Health Care Research and Quality Report).
  • Inadequate literacy is common among those with a poor knowledge of asthma and improper use of metered-dose inhaler (MDI). More than half of patients reading at a sixth-grade level or less report they go to the emergency room when they have an asthma attack compared with less than a third of literate patients. Less than one-third of patients with the poorest reading skills know they should see a physician when their asthma is not symptomatic as compared with 90% of literate patients (CHEST).
  • “Health literacy is fundamental to quality care,” Dr. David A. Kindig, Chair of the Committee on Health Literacy, The Institute of Medicine