Diagnosis of illiteracy in patients hospitalized at a nursing service. Prospective study.

M J Gomes, A O Soares, N S Vau


When, at the end of a medical visit, a doctor prescribes medication, he may be unaware that writing is unknown to the patient. This fact compromises the patient's understanding of disease and therapeutics and thus the importance of diagnosing illiteracy. The A.A studied prospectively 200 consecutive patients admitted to a Medical Ward at Santa Maria Hospital in Lisbon, from 13/3/1997 to 8/7/1998. The study included age, gender, social environment, evaluation of the ability to read and write, years of scholarship and the principal diagnosis. The results were to chi 2 (Yates) and Student's T-tests. RESULTS: 94 patients were male and 106 female, aged between 18 and 95 years (mean 62.3), 106 from an urban environment, 54 from a rural environment and 37 had lived their adult life in a rural environment but were at present living in an urban environment. The percentage of illiteracy was 30.5%, being considerably higher in the females (43.4%) than in the males (15.96%), in patients above 65 years (49%) compared to patients from 15 to 64 years old (12%), in non-urban patients (55%) opposed to urban born patients (10.4%). Any of these variables, gender, age and social environments had statistical significance to P < 0.001 when associated to illiteracy. CONCLUSIONS: The comparative analysis of the official results for the general Portuguese Population study, Census 91, shows an important analogy. In both studies illiteracy was worst in females and in those above 65 years of age. Today illiteracy is still days a serious National problem, with important medical implications, a troublesome obstacle to the understanding of the disease and compliance with therapy.

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