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Pediatrics. 2009 Nov;124 Suppl 3:S315-26. doi: 10.1542/peds.2009-1163H.

Health literacy and quality: focus on chronic illness care and patient safety.

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  • 1Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Vanderbilt Center for Health Services Research, Internal Medicine and Pediatrics, Suite 6000 Medical Center East, Nashville, TN 37232-8300, USA.


Despite a heightened focus on improving quality, recent studies have suggested that children only receive half of the indicated preventive, acute, or chronic care. Two major areas in need of improvement are chronic illness care and prevention of medical errors. Recently, health literacy has been identified as an important and potentially ameliorable factor for improving quality of care. Studies of adults have documented that lower health literacy is independently associated with poorer understanding of prescriptions and other medical information and worse chronic disease knowledge, self-management behaviors, and clinical outcomes. There is also growing evidence to suggest that health literacy is important in pediatric safety and chronic illness care. Adult studies have suggested that addressing literacy can lead to improved patient knowledge, behaviors, and outcomes. Early studies in the field of pediatrics have shown similar promise. There are significant opportunities to evaluate and demonstrate the importance of health literacy in improving pediatric quality of care. Efforts to address health literacy should be made to apply the 6 Institute of Medicine aims for quality-care that is safe, effective, patient centered, timely, efficient, and equitable. Efforts should also be made to consider the distinct nature of pediatric care and address the "4 D's" unique to child health: the developmental change of children over time; dependency on parents or adults; differential epidemiology of child health; and the different demographic patterns of children and their families.

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