Patients with low health literacy 2.3 times more likely to visit ED

Preventative medicine has been proven to improve overall health of patients while also reducing the cost of care, but many factors avert the possibilities of prevention. In a study published in Academic Emergency Medicine, researchers evaluated the correlation between health literacy and preventable emergency department (ED) visits that resulted in admission.

Led by Meenakshi P. Balakrishnan MPH, PhD, clinical research manager in the department of emergency medicine at the University of Florida, researchers believed education could be a crucial way to reduce hospital admissions and healthcare costs. This study focused health literacy and preventable ED admissions by enrolling 1,201 participants and reviewing 4,444 ED visits.

"One of the key principles of social emergency medicine is that there are concrete things emergency physicians can do at the bedside when we are faced with social needs,” said Harrison Alter, MD, MS, Executive Director of the Andrew Levitt Center for Social Emergency Medicine. “Of all of the social determinants of health, health literacy—the ability of patients to grasp the words we use to describe our care—is one that we can practically reach out and touch. It is at the foundation of our compact with our patients.”

Results showed 33 percent of patients enrolled had low health literacy, and 9.5 percent of ED visits were potentially preventable. Of the preventable ED visits, 61 percent resulted in a hospital admission. Overall, patients with low health literacy were 2.3 times more likely to visits the ED with a preventable case.

“Our results suggest that the ED may be an important site to deploy universal literacy-sensitive precautions and to test literacy-sensitive interventions with the goal of reducing the burden of potentially preventable ED visits on patients and the healthcare system,” said Alter.