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Rheumatology (Oxford). 2002 Jul;41(7):750-4.

Illiteracy in rheumatoid arthritis patients as determined by the Rapid Estimate of Adult Literacy in Medicine (REALM) score.

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Centre for Rheumatic Diseases, Glasgow Royal Infirmary, Glasgow, UK.



To determine the prevalence of illiteracy in a cohort of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients and the impact of illiteracy on disease severity and function.


We performed a prospective cross-sectional study with case record review of 127 consecutive patients with RA attending one centre. All patients completed the Rapid Estimate of Adult Literacy in Medicine (REALM) screening test. This 66-word recognition test provides an estimate of reading level in less than 3 min. Demographic data were collected by interview and case record review. Function was assessed with the Health Assessment Questionnaire (HAQ) and depression with the Hospital Anxiety and Depression (HAD) scale, both sent prior to clinic attendance. Social deprivation was assessed with the Carstairs index.


Four patients refused to participate. Of these, three stated they were unable to read. Ninety-seven women and 26 men agreed to be interviewed. All but two were Caucasian. Median age was 56 yr (range 19-77 yr) and median disease duration was 10 yr (range 1-60 yr). Median number of previous disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) was two. Eighteen (15%) patients were functionally illiterate, with a REALM score of less than 60. Sex, age, disease duration and numbers of joint replacements and previous DMARDs were not influenced by illiteracy. Illiteracy led to more anxiety (P=0.011), but did not affect HAQ score (P>0.5). Illiteracy was more common in the deprived (P=0.0064). Illiterate patients had three times more hospital visits compared with age- and sex-matched RA controls over the previous 12 months.


One in six of our patient population are illiterate and would struggle to cope with patient education materials and prescription labels. These patients had significantly more hospital visits but equal function, suggesting that additional resources be directed towards these individuals. The REALM test is quick and easy to administer and allows us to identify patients who may require more appropriate literature.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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