Validation of three health literacy screening questions compared with S-TOFHLA in a low-income diverse English- and Spanish-Speaking population.

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BACKGROUND: Clinicians need a tool to gauge patients' ability to understand health conditions and treatment options. The Short-form Test of Functional Health Literacy in Adults (S-TOFHLA) is the gold standard for this, but its length is prohibitive for use in clinical settings. This study seeks to validate a novel three-item question set for predicting health literacy.

METHODS: This cross-sectional study utilized an in-person questionnaire alongside the S-TOFHLA. The sample included 2027 English- and Spanish-speaking adults (≥18 years) recruited from primary care practices serving a low-income eastern Pennsylvania community. Most patients (57.7%) identified as Hispanic. Diagnostic accuracy of each question and aggregated scores were assessed against the validated survey by calculating the area under the receiver operating characteristic (AUROC) curve.

RESULTS: Questions in the 'Problems Learning' and 'Help Reading' domains (AUROC 0.66 for each) performed better than the 'Confident Forms' question (AUROC 0.64). Summing all three scores resulted in an even higher AUROC curve (0.71). Cronbach's alpha of the combined items was 0.696.

CONCLUSIONS: Study results suggest that any of the three questions are viable options for screening health literacy levels of diverse patients in primary care clinical settings. However, they perform better as a summed score than when used individually.




Medicine and Health Sciences




Department of Family Medicine, Department of Medicine, Network Office of Research and Innovation

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