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School of Public Health, Taipei Medical University, Taipei, TaiwanDepartment of Environmental Health Sciences, National Health Research Institutes, Miaoli, TaiwanInstitutional Research Center, Yuanpei University of Medical Technology, Hsin-Chu, Taiwan
To validate a conceptual short-form health literacy 12 items questionnaire (HL-SF12) in patient populations.
A cross-sectional study was conducted via a convenient sample of 403 patients from three departments of a community general hospital in the northern Taiwan. Patients’ health literacy was assessed with a validated HL-SF12, derived from the full scale, the European Health Literacy Survey Questionnaire (HLS-EU-Q), as well as a single-item from Chew’s Set of Brief Health Literacy Question. A reference population in Northern Taiwan (n=928) via the HLS-EU-Q in 2013–2014 was used as a reference to compare the health literacy between that of the general public and the patients. Data was analyzed by confirmatory factor analysis (CFA), internal consistency analysis, correlation analysis, and linear regression models.
Patients’ health literacy assessed with the HL-SF12 was shown with high internal consistency (Cronbach α=.87), and moderately correlated with the single-item from Chew's Set of Brief Health Literacy Question, with satisfactory item-scale convergent validity (item-scale correlation ≥ .40), without floor/ceiling effect, and with satisfactory goodness of fit indices of the three-factor construct model for most of the patients. Their health literacy was significantly positively associated with female gender, higher income, and more often watching health-related TV programs. On the other hands, patients were reported with significantly higher healthcare health literacy than the general public, but not in general health literacy, disease prevention health literacy, or health promotion health literacy.
The comprehensive HL-SF12 was a valid and easy to use tool for assessing patients’ health literacy in the hospitals to facilitate healthcare providers in enhancing patients’ health literacy and healthcare qualities.
Health literacy has been defined by Sorensen and others to entail the knowledge, motivation and competences to access, understand, appraise, and apply information, to make judgments and decisions in terms of healthcare, disease prevention and healthy behaviors, to maintain and promote quality of life throughout the life course [
]. The main differences between the general public and outpatients in regard to their health literacy were that patients experienced simultaneously existing health issues when they visited the hospital, sought assistance from the healthcare system, and contacted healthcare services. On the other hand, people with limited health literacy probably had difficulty accessing, understanding, evaluating and applying health information to manage their own health [
]. Therefore, those who accessed the hospital may already have higher levels of health literacy than the others who did not. However, if the patients who visited the hospital in different departments and found it difficult to learn how to access the hospital, doctors, and follow-up on prescriptions and instructions for healthcare, limited health literacy could became barriers that prevent them from adhering to treatment [
]. Patients who visited different departments carried with them different healthcare experiences, which might incur various reflections on their health literacy. Therefore, patients’ health literacy might have modified and deviated from those of the general public, including their general health literacy, healthcare health literacy, disease prevention health literacy, or health promotion health literacy. It is important for healthcare providers to evaluate and understand patients’ health literacy before delivering their education and instruction.
The European Health Literacy Assessment tool (HLS-EU-Q) with 47 items has been developed and validated in Europe [
]. However, the questionnaire is relatively long and could cause potential measurement bias. Several short-form questionnaires have been developed to provide easy assessment of health literacy in the individuals, including the Short Test of Functional Health Literacy in Adults [
]. It was based on the conceptual model that considered four competences of an individual when dealing with health-relevant information (access/obtain, understand, appraise/judge/evaluate, and apply/use health information) to form judgment and make health-related decisions [
]. The HL-SF12 was developed from the HLS-EU-Q47 using nation-wide data on the general public in Taiwan; it has not been used in clinical settings for healthcare providers. In addition, the difference between patients and the general public regarding health literacy has not been examined in Taiwan.
This study aimed to evaluate the HL-SF12 on patients in a general hospital, and to identify the differences in health literacy between patients and the general public. The HL-SF12 was expected to serve more in the healthcare services as a fast and practical tool for health professionals to evaluate and understand patients’ health literacy when they deliver education or instruction.
Study design and sampling
A cross-sectional survey was conducted by using the HL-SF12 developed by Asian Health Literacy research consortium [
]. Convenient sampling method was used to recruit patients who visited the general outpatient department, orthopedics department, and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) department in the National Taipei Hospital within 1 randomly selected week in each department from June 2015 to July 2015. These three departments represented three main groups of patients in this community general hospital, with patients in the general outpatient department representing those for nonsurgical treatment, the orthopedics department representing surgical patients, and in the TCM department representing those who sought traditional medicinal treatment.
Patients who visited the above-mentioned departments, aged 18 years and more, were without psychiatric disorder, were able to read and understand the local language, and were willing to participate in the survey, were included during the study period.
A total of 453 patients during the above-mentioned period were invited to the survey. Among them, 403 patients (response rate 89.0%) completed the interviews and were included in the final analysis. The sample size required for structural equation model and CFA was recommended as 5–10 times the number of items [
]. The HL-SF12 consisted of 12 items. As such, the number of patients was 190 in the outpatient department, 130 in the orthopedics department, and 83 in the TCM department, which satisfied the requirement. The total sample size of 403 patients was also satisfactory.
The HL-SF12 contained 12 items, the perceived difficulty of each health related task was rated on 4-point Likert scales (1=very difficult, 2=difficult, 3=easy, and 4=very easy), with a possible lowest mean score of 1, and a possible highest mean score of 4.
In order to examine the convergent validity, a single-item from the SBSQ, “How confident are you in filling out medical forms by yourself?” was included [
Sociodemographics and personal characteristics including age, gender, education (junior high school and below, senior high school, university and above), net income per month (< 667 USD, 667 > 1,667 USD, > 1,667 USD), self-perceived social status (low, middle, high), watching health-related TV (never, rarely, sometimes, often) were also measured.
All the patients who visited the outpatient department, the orthopedics department, or the TCM department during the study period were invited to join the HL-SF12 survey anonymously, assisted by trained interviewers with standard protocol. The informed consent forms were signed before patients responded to the questionnaire. Each survey took about 15 minutes.
The general indices for health literacy (general, healthcare, disease prevention and health promotion) were standardized to unified metrics from 0 to 50 using the formula Index=(M – 1) × (50/3), where Index was the specific index calculated, M was the mean of all participating items for each individual, 1 was the minimal possible value of the mean (leading to a minimum value of the index of 0), 3 was the range of the mean, and 50 was the chosen maximum value of the new metric. Thus, an index value was obtained where 0 represented the lowest health literacy and 50 the highest [
Floor and ceiling effects analyses included the following: Floor/ceiling effects referred to a high percentage of participants scoring possibly the lowest score or achieving possibly the highest score, respectively. Therefore, minimal floor and ceiling effects were recommended and, for the HL-SF12 scale, a percentage of 15.0% at floor or at ceiling was considered a significant effect [
Construct validity analyses included the following: To establish construct validity, CFA was conducted for health literacy consisting of three dimensions of health: healthcare, disease prevention, and health promotion. Twelve items from 12 hypothetical components of health literacy [
], which were loaded onto the three factors (healthcare, disease prevention, and health promotion). The fit of the data to the model was examined by goodness of fit indices including (a) Absolute model fit: root mean square error of approximation, goodness-of-fit index (GFI); (b) Incremental fit: adjusted goodness of fit index (AGFI), comparative fit index (CFI), incremental fit index (IFI), and normal fit index (NFI); (c) Parsimonious fit, or the chi-square goodness of fit test: chi-square/degrees of freedom ratio (χ2/df ratio). More satisfied indices would indicate better construct validity of the questionnaire [
Finally, the associations between sociodemographic, personal characteristics and health literacy measured by HL-SF12 were examined by linear regression models. A population in Northern Taiwan (n=928) via the HLS-EU-Q in 2013–2014 was used as a reference for comparison between the general public and the patients. The health literacy index score of general public in the Northern Taiwan was calculated by using the same 12 selected items as 12 items of HL-SF12 scale in measuring patient’s health literacy. The multivariate analysis controlled for age, gender, and education.
All statistical analyses were performed using SPSS version 20.0 and AMOS version 22.0 (IBM Corp; Armonk, NY, USA). The significance level was set at p<.05.
The study was approved by the Institutional Review Board of the National Taipei Hospital, Ministry of Health and Welfare, Taiwan (TH-IRB-0014-0019).
The mean age of participants was 44.9 years±15.8 years, with 61.1% women, 46.9% with senior high school education and below, and 53.1% with university education and above. A total of 32.2% claimed they were unemployed or with student status; 11.9% claimed their monthly income was less than 667 USD per month; 49.2% claimed between 667 > 1,667 USD, and 38.8% claimed more than 1,667 USD. In total, 33.3% of the participants self-reported low social status, and 66.7% with middle or high social status; 35.4% reported never or rarely watching health-related TV, 46.4% reported sometimes watching, and 18.2% reported watching often (Table 1).
Table 1Bivariate and Multivariate Linear Regression Analyses for Health Literacy and Sociodemographics (N=403).
The reliability of the HL-SF12 was very high, with Cronbach α of .87 for all the study populations, and it was acceptable for patients from the outpatient department, orthopedics department, and TCM department, at .88, .87, .88, respectively [
The correlation between HL-SF12 and single-item SBSQ was with Spearman’s rho at .31–.50, a moderate level for patients of different departments (Table 2). This provided evidence of convergent validity for the survey tool used in diverse patient populations [
]. No significant floor/ceiling effect was detected, as the percentages of patients with the lowest scores or the highest scores in health literacy at floor or ceiling were less than 15.0%. This indicated that the responsiveness of HL-SF12 scale was satisfactory for use in different patient groups (Table 2).
The root mean square error of approximation was less than .08, and other goodness of fit indices (GFI, AGFI, CFI, IFI, NFI) were .90 or higher, demonstrating good model–data fit [
]. The GFI was .89 for patients in the TCM department, while the AGFI was .88 for patients in the outpatient department and orthopedics department, and .82 for patients in TCM department. The NFI value was .89 for patients in orthopedics department, .87 for patients in TCM department; both were considered a tolerable fit [
Three-factor model of health literacy included health literacy in healthcare, disease prevention and health promotion.
Absolute model fit
Note. AGFI=adjusted goodness-of-fit index; CFI=comparative fit index; GFI=goodness-of-fit index; HL-SF12=short-form health literacy 12 items questionnaire; IFI=incremental fit index; NFI=normal fit index; OPD=out-patient department; RMSEA=root mean square error of approximation; TCM=traditional Chinese medicine.
a Three-factor model of health literacy included health literacy in healthcare, disease prevention and health promotion.
The associations between health literacy and its contributory determinants were analyzed by simple linear regression (model 1) including one independent variable and general health literacy index as dependent variable; multiple linear regression model (model 2) included age, gender, education, employment status, net income per month self-perceived social status, department visited, frequency of watching health-related TV as independent variables. The general health literacy index was a dependent variable in the models. The results demonstrated that health literacy was significantly negatively associated with male gender (unstandardized regression coefficient, B=–2.40, p<.001), positively associated both with their incomes (B=2.84–2.90, p<.05) and watching health-related TV program (B=1.94–3.22, p<.05; Table 1). However, no association was found between health literacy and education (B=0.85–1.37, p>.05) or different departments visited (B=–1.50 to 0.60, p>.05; Table 1).
In addition, the difference in health literacy between the general public and the patients was analyzed by multiple linear regression model adjusted for age, gender, and education. The result showed that these patients reported significantly higher than their reference general public with regard to healthcare health literacy (B=1.65, p=.001), but did not significantly differ in general health literacy (B=0.81, p=.058), disease prevention health literacy (B=0.84, p=.095), or health promotion health literacy (B=–0.05, p=.922; Table 4).
Table 4Difference(s) between General Public (as reference group) and Out Patients Regarding HL via Multiple Linear Regression Analysis.
]. Results suggested that health literacy was recommended in clinical practice for enhancing self-care activities and could improve health-related quality of life in patients. Therefore, it was important to identify patients at different levels of health literacy and provide adequate and effective interventions such as tailored counseling, improved provider–patient interactions, organizing information by patient preference using plain language and visual items [
]. However, it was limited in assessing patients’ functional health literacy, and showed lack of comprehensiveness of health literacy which was related to the ability of patients to manage their own health [
The HLS-EU-Q with 47 items had been developed and validated based on the comprehensive conceptual framework of health literacy covering multicontexts of health in healthcare, disease prevention, and health promotion [
]. The HL-SF12 was further developed and validated by using the data collected from 3,015 members of the general public in Taiwan in 2013–2014, which kept all 12 hypothetical dimensions of comprehensive health literacy [
]. However, this new comprehensive tool was for the first time validated and used in a clinical setting to serve as a fast and effective tool for health professionals to evaluate patients’ health literacy before delivering the services. The results in current study in different groups of patients were shown with high level of internal consistency and split-half Spearman-Brown coefficient, suggesting satisfactory reliability of the tool [
The results of CFA supported construct validity of the HL-SF12 in different patient groups with satisfactory goodness of fit indices, with 12 items loading highly on three hypothetical factors of comprehensive health literacy [
]. Furthermore, at the scale level, health literacy as measured by the HL-SF12 was fairly correlated with that as measured by the single-item “confident with forms” of the SBSQ, which provided adequate evidence of convergent validity [
The validity of HL-SF12 was robust by results of linear regression analysis to predict the association between health literacy and its associated factors. The result showed that health literacy was found to be significantly different between male and female, between levels of incomes, and frequency of watching health-related TV program. The findings were similar with those in previous studies, that women’s health literacy was generally found to be higher than those of men [
In the bivariate analysis, education was shown as a protective factor for health literacy. In multivariate analysis, however, the association between education and general health literacy index was not found in current study which was similar with another population-based study in Taiwan [
]. It indicated that income (B=2.84–2.90), and watching health-related TV (B=1.94–3.22) were shown to contribute more in variances of general health literacy than education attainment did (B=0.85–1.37) in model 2 (Table 1). On the other hands, health literacy was suggested to be more likely influenced by income, life-long learning experiences (i.e., watching health related TV), or participating in the health promotion activities [
]. This may indicate inadequate health-related contents in general education curriculum in Taiwan that education attainment was less important to health literacy in the study population.
The HL-SF12, in this study, was able to identify the difference between the general public and patients, specifically on healthcare health literacy, but not on disease prevention health literacy or health promotion health literacy. The patients who experienced healthcare services in the hospital were expected to have higher health literacy in healthcare than those of the general public, while their health literacy in disease prevention and health promotion were similar to those of the general public.
In addition, health literacy was not found to be different between patients from departments. This reflected that patients visited different departments based on their health needs or demands, while health literacy was an accumulated process where people needed to develop the knowledge and skills through their lifetime to manage their own health [
Finally, this study suggested using this new comprehensive tool in different patient populations to evaluate and compare the association of disease-focused health literacy and associated factors in future research.
Strength and limitations
The study was conducted in patients in specific departments in one general community hospital. The results suggested its much wider application in the clinical settings.
The study demonstrated that the comprehensive HL-SF12 was useful in different patient populations and the general public. However, the test-retest reliability was not examined due to the cross-sectional study design. In addition, the past experiences of the general public and these patients were not accessible. Further investigations of this tool in other clinical settings and in different countries with different study designs were recommended.
This was the first study to investigate the validity of the comprehensive HL-SF12 in different patient populations, and comparing it with the general public population. The results indicated that the HL-SF12 was a valid tool in the clinical settings to serve as a comprehensive health literacy survey for doctors and nurses to assess patients’ health literacy.
Conflict of interest
The authors reported no conflict of interest.
The authors would thank the Department of Orthopedics, the Department of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and the General Out-patient Department of the National Taipei Hospital for financial and administrative supports. This study was supported by the National Taipei Hospital.
Europeans with poor “health literacy” are heavy users of health services.