OBJECTIVE: Studies show that the average person fails to understand and use health care related materials to their full potential. The goal of this study was to evaluate a health literacy instrument based on the Rapid Estimate of Adult Literacy in Medicine (REALM) that incorporates dental and medical terms into one 84-item Rapid Estimate of Adult Literacy in Medicine and Dentistry (REALM-D) measure and determine its association with patient characteristics of a culturally diverse dental clinic population.
METHODS: An 84-item dental/medical health literacy word list and a 48-item health beliefs and attitudes survey was provided to a sample of 200 adult patients seeking treatment for the first time at an oral diagnosis clinic located in a large urban medical center in Los Angeles, California.
RESULTS: Of the total sample, 154 participants read all of list 1 correctly, 141 read list 2 correctly, and only 38 read list 3 correctly. Nonwhite participants had significantly lower REALM-D scores at each level of difficulty as well as the total scale score compared to white participants. Participants who reported English as not their main language had significantly lower REALM-D scores. REALM-D scores also varied significantly by level of education among participants where as level of education increased, oral health literacy increased. At a bivariate level, race, education, and English as a main language remain predictive of health literacy in a regression model. An interaction between education and English as a main language was significant.
CONCLUSIONS: The REALM-D is an effective instrument for use by medical and dental clinicians in detecting differences among people of different backgrounds and for whom English was not their primary language.