How can health literacy influence outcomes in heart failure patients? mechanisms and interventions

Cheryl Westlake, Kristen Sethares, Patricia Davidson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Health literacy is discussed in papers from 25 countries where findings suggest that approximately a third up to one half of the people in developed countries have low health literacy. Specifically, health literacy is the mechanism by which individuals obtain and use health information to make health decisions about individual treatments in the home, access care in the community, promote provider-patient interactions, structure self-care, and navigate health care programs both locally and nationally. Further, health literacy is a key determinant of health and a critical dimension for assessing individuals' needs, and, importantly, their capacity for self-care. Poorer health knowledge/status, more medication errors, costs, and higher rates of morbidity, readmissions, emergency room visits, and mortality among patients with health illiteracy have been demonstrated. Individuals at high risk for low health literacy include the elderly, disabled, Blacks, those with a poverty-level income, some or less high school education, either no insurance or Medicare or Medicaid, and those for whom English is a second language. As a consequence, health literacy is a complex, multifaceted, and evolving construct including aspects of social, psychological, cultural and economic circumstances. The purpose of this paper is to describe the mechanisms and consequences of health illiteracy. Specifically, the prevalence, associated demographics, and models of health literacy are described. The mechanism of health illiteracy's influence on outcomes in heart failure is proposed. Tools for health literacy assessment are described and compared. Finally, the health outcomes and general interventions to enhance the health outcomes in heart failure are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)232-243
Number of pages12
JournalCurrent heart failure reports
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Health literacy
  • Health outcomes
  • Heart failure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)


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