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Special Article
January 1999

Why Literacy Matters: Links Between Reading Ability and Health

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Ophthalmology, Duke Eye Center, Durham, NC. The author has no commercial, proprietary, or financial interest in the products described in this article.

Arch Ophthalmol. 1999;117(1):100-103. doi:10.1001/archopht.117.1.100

The ability to understand verbal and written materials is central to modern life. Yet, the US Department of Education estimated that 47% of all adult Americans in 1993 had poor reading and comprehension skills.1 Analyses of the readability of patient education materials, discharge instructions, and consent forms throughout many specialties within medicine have found almost uniformly that these materials are written at too complex a level for many or most patients.2-10 For example, a study of the patient ophthalmic education materials of the American Academy of Ophthalmology by Ebrahimzadeh et al2 found large amounts of the material exceeded the reading abilities of much of the American adult population. Yet, this is only one small part of understanding the effects of literacy and reading abilities on our patient's health and their use of our increasingly complex health care system.