Health literacy of critical care patients in a remote area health service: A cross-sectional survey

Published:September 28, 2022DOI:



      Lower life expectancy, higher rates of chronic disease, and poorer uptake of health services are common in remote patient populations. Patients with poor health literacy (HL) are less likely to attend appointments, adhere to medications, and have higher rates of chronic illness. Evidence underpinning the relationship between HL and inequity in remote critical care populations is sparse.


      The primary study aim was to explore a multidimensional HL profile of patients requiring critical care in a remote area health service. Secondary aims were to explore HL in subgroups of the sample and to explore associations between HL and emergency department representation and discharge against medical advice.


      This was a cross-sectional study of consecutive eligible patients admitted to the Mount Isa hospital intensive care unit. The Health Literacy Questionnaire was administered in a semistructured interview.


      In a 5-month period, there were 141 patient admissions to the five-bed intensive care unit, 67 patients (47.5%) met inclusion criteria and were not discharged prior to recruitment, and 37 (26.2%) agreed to participate. Participants felt understood and supported by healthcare providers, had sufficient information to manage their health, proactively engaged with healthcare providers, and had strong social supports. More challenging was their capacity to advocate on their own behalf, to explore and appraise information and to navigate healthcare systems. Patients who represented to the emergency department (n = 8, 21.6%) felt more empowered to seek healthcare advice. Of the 11 patients that discharged against medical advice, only one participated in the study.


      Trends in the data showed that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants were marginally less likely to be information explorers and to understand all written information. Findings provide guidance for the development of interventions to progress a reduction in health disparities experienced by this population.


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