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J Health Commun. 2008 Apr-May;13(3):287-302. doi: 10.1080/10810730801985442.

Health literacy of HIV-positive individuals enrolled in an outreach intervention: results of a cross-site analysis.

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Department of Health Policy and Management, Boston University School of Public Health, Bedford, MA 07730, USA.


This article examines health literacy among a group a HIV-positive persons at risk for receiving suboptimal health care due to histories of substance abuse, mental illness, incarceration, and unstable housing or homelessness. Participants receiving services from three outreach programs funded as part of a multisite demonstration project were screened for health literacy using the Test of Functional Health Literacy in Adults (TOFHLA) at program enrollment. The goal of this analysis was to identify demographics, risk factors, and health indicators associated with different levels of health literacy. Results indicated that although fewer than 30% of the sample scored in the marginal or inadequate range for health literacy, participants with these lower levels of health literacy were more likely to be African American or Latino/a, heterosexual, speak Spanish as their primary language, and have less than a high school education. The disparities in health literacy found in this study point to a need to assess level of health literacy and provide culturally sensitive health literacy interventions for persons with chronic diseases such as HIV. In addition to offering these services within HIV health care settings, health professionals can use other potential venues for health literacy assessment and intervention including substance abuse treatment and community-based social service, education, and training programs. Health care and support service providers also must become aware of the importance of health literacy when caring for all patients with HIV, particularly those most likely to have low health literacy.

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