Patient Activation and Advocacy

Which Literacy Skills Matter Most?

Published in: Journal of Health Communication, v. 16 no. 3, Sep. 2011, p. 177-190

Posted on on September 01, 2011

by Laurie T. Martin, Matthias Schonlau, Ann C. Haas, Kathryn Pitkin Derose, Lindsay Rosenfeld, Stephen L. Buka, Rima Rudd

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Attention to the effect of a patient's literacy skills on health care interactions is relatively new. So, too, are studies of either structural or personal factors that inhibit or support a patient's ability to navigate health services and systems and to advocate for their own needs within a service delivery system. Contributions of the structural environment, of interpersonal dynamics, and of a variety of psychological and sociological factors in the relationship between patients and providers have long been under study. Less frequently examined is the advocacy role expected of patients. However, the complex nature of health care in the United States increasingly requires a proactive stance. This study examined whether four literacy skills (reading, numeracy, speaking, and listening) were associated with patient self-advocacy—a component of health literacy itself—when faced with a hypothetical barrier to scheduling a medical appointment. Although all literacy skills were significantly associated with advocacy when examined in isolation, greater speaking and listening skills remained significantly associated with better patient advocacy when all four skills were examined simultaneously. These findings suggest that speaking and listening skills and support for such skills may be important factors to consider when developing patient activation and advocacy skills.

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