Literacy and the Healthcare Industry

The High Cost of Illiteracy on the Healthcare Industry

$73 billion is wasted annually in unnecessary healthcare expenditures due to low health literacy.   Medicare and Medicaid programs finance more than 50% of these costs.  (National Academy on an Aging Society, 1999)

“The nation’s estimated 90 million adults with lower-than-average reading skills are less likely than other Americans to get potentially lifesaving screening tests such as mammograms and Pap smears, to get flu and pneumonia vaccines, and to take their children for well child care visits, according to a new evidence report by Carolyn M. Clancy, M.D., Director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.  AHRQ commissioned the evidence review at the request of the American Medical Association.

People with a low level of literacy have difficulty reading newspapers and other simple information such as directions for taking medications or hospital discharge instructions.  They are also more likely to be hospitalized, which may be because physicians are concerned about the patients’ abilities to follow basic instructions and care for themselves at home when they are sick.”  (Press release dated April 8, 2004.  The full text of the report can be found online at:

Parents with low literacy levels often do not provide preventive care for their children. (Archives of Internal Medicine) 

Reading aloud to children is the single most important activity that parents can do to help children develop the understanding and skills necessary to succeed as readers and students. (Wells, 1985; Bus, van Ijzendoom & Pellegrini, 1995)