Dr. Barry D. Weiss, professor of family and community medicine at Arizona University, and Drs. Michael Pignone, associate professor, and Darren DeWalt, assistant professor, both in medicine at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, developed what they call the "Newest Vital Sign." Their chief goals are to improve recognition of limited literacy and its effect on health and health care.

The Newest Vital Sign is a simple, six-question assessment based on an ice cream nutrition label, Pignone said. It enables health workers to gauge individuals’ ability to read, comprehend plain English and act on health information in productive ways. It is the only rapid assessment tool developed both in Spanish and English.

"We believe this offers a way for providers to identify patients at risk for literacy-related communication problems," he said. "Being able to identify those with communication problems early on and tailor messages to fit each patient’s literacy level can reduce most such problems."

In a report in the latest issue of Annals of Family Medicine, the researchers describe Newest Vital Sign and say that literacy screening instruments currently available for hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices either take too much time or are available only in English. On the other hand, their new assessment tool can be administered in only three minutes, the UNC physician said. It also can be used to assess health literacy skills while patients’ vital signs, such as blood pressure, are measured.

"Patients are given the ice cream nutrition label by the nurse or physician and asked a series of questions about it," Pignone said. "Based on the number of correct answers given, we can determine their literacy level and adjust the way we communicate with patients to help them understand what’s going on."

MEDICA.de; Source: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill