Original Article

Evaluation of Health Literacy among Spanish-Speaking Primary Care Patients Along the US–Mexico Border

Authors: Eribeth Penaranda, MD, Marco Diaz, MD, Oscar Noriega, MD, Navkiran Shokar, MD, MPH


Objectives: Health literacy (HL) is a measure of the communication skills that are needed by an individual to effectively navigate the healthcare system. Hispanic adults have lower average levels of HL than any other racial/ethnic group; however, the prevalence of adequate HL among Hispanics along the US–Mexico border is unknown.

Methods: We performed a cross-sectional survey of 200 adult primary care patients who attended four low-income community clinics along the US–Mexico border. Patients were included in the study if they were self-described Hispanics whose first language was Spanish or bilingual patients who reported that they were primarily Spanish speakers. Adequate HL was defined as having a score of ≥38 on the Short Assessment of Health Literacy for Spanish Adults-50.

Results: Three patients (1.5%) had inadequate HL. Because of the high proportion of patients having adequate HL, we found no statistical differences between patients with adequate HL versus inadequate HL by age, sex, educational attainment, health coverage, or self-reported health status; however, all three patients with inadequate HL were found to be 60 years old or older and had less than a high school education.

Conclusions: The results of HL assessment varied according to the tool and setting used in measuring Spanish-speaking Hispanics. In certain clinical scenarios, current tools may underestimate the actual prevalence of adequate HL. Further development and assessment of HL tools appropriate for Spanish-speaking Hispanics is needed as a first step in developing interventions to limit disparities in health care among all Americans.

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