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Int J Public Health. 2014 Dec;59(6):967-74. doi: 10.1007/s00038-014-0583-5. Epub 2014 Jul 11.

When to see a doctor for common health problems: distribution patterns of functional health literacy across migrant populations in Switzerland.

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Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine, University Bern, Bern, Switzerland.



Knowing when to seek professional help for health problems is considered an important aspect of health literacy. However, little is known about the distribution of help-seeking knowledge in the general population or specific subpopulations.


We analysed data from the "Health Monitoring of the Swiss Migrant Population 2010" and used a short survey tool to study the distribution of help-seeking knowledge. We sampled members of four migrant groups (from Portugal, Turkey, Serbia and Kosovo; n = 2,614). Our tool contained 12 items that addressed common physical and psychological health problems. A total sum score measured help-seeking knowledge. Two sub-scores analysed knowledge related to potential overuse (minor symptoms) or potential underuse (major symptoms). We applied linear regression to show variations in help-seeking knowledge by age, sex, region of origin and length of stay.


Controlling for self-rated health, we found that region of origin, higher education, female gender and younger age were significantly associated with higher knowledge scores.


We present empirical evidence of unequal distribution of help-seeking knowledge across four migrant populations in Switzerland. Our findings contribute to current conceptual developments in health literacy, and provide starting points for future research.

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