Prospective Evaluation of Health Literacy and Its Impact on Outcomes in Emergency General Surgery

Elisa Camille Calabrese, Samer Asmar, Letitia Bible, Muhammad Khurrum, Mohamad Chehab, Andrew Tang, Lourdes Castanon, Michael Ditillo, Bellal Joseph

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Health literacy (HL) is an important component of national health policy. The aim of our study was to assess the prevalence of low HL (LHL) and determine its impact on outcomes after emergency general surgery (EGS). Methods: We performed a (2016-2017) prospective cohort analysis of adult EGS patients. HL was assessed using the Short Assessment of HL score. LHL was defined as Short Assessment of HL score <14. Outcomes were the prevalence of LHL, compliance with medications, wound/drain care, 30-d complications, 30-d readmission, and time to resuming activities of daily living. Results: We enrolled 900 patients. The mean age was 43 ± 11 y. Overall, 22% of the patients had LHL. LHL patients were more likely to be Hispanics (59% versus 15%, P < 0.01), uninsured (50% versus 20%, P < 0.01), have lower socioeconomic status (80% versus 40%, P < 0.02), and are less likely to have completed college (5% versus 60%, P < 0.01) compared with HL patients. On regression analysis, LHL was associated with lower medication compliance (OR: 0.81, [0.4-0.9], P = 0.02), inadequate wound/drain care (OR: 0.75, [0.5-0.8], P = 0.01), 30-d complications (OR: 1.95, [1.3-2.5], P < 0.01), and 30-d readmission (OR: 1.51, [1.2-2.6], P = 0.02). The median time of resuming activities of daily living was longer in patients with LHL than HL patients (4 d versus 7 d, P < 0.01). Conclusions: One in five patients undergoing EGS has LHL. LHL is associated with decreased compliance with discharge instructions, medications, and wound/drain care. Health literacy must be taken into account when discussing the postoperative plan and better instruction is needed for patients with LHL. Level of Evidence: Level III. Study Type: Prognostic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)343-350
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Surgical Research
StatePublished - May 2021


  • Complications
  • Emergency general surgery
  • Health literacy
  • Health literate
  • Medication compliance
  • Outcomes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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