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Abstract

Background and Purpose: The literature is replete with research and guidelines indicating that educational materials provided by healthcare workers often surpass the average reading ability of adults in the United States (US). The purpose of this article was two-fold: (1) to assess PTs’ knowledge and use of health literacy strategies, and (2) to assess written home exercise programs for 10 outpatient physical therapy practices. Method: Physical therapist conference attendees attending a state chapter meeting of the American Physical Therapy Association were invited to participate; a total of 43 participated. In addition, 10 outpatient physical therapy practices in western Pennsylvania provided a home exercise program (HEP) for review; a sample of convenience was employed for selecting these sites. Participants were solicited via inclusion of an introductory cover letter, written survey on health literacy, and a return envelope in each conference applicant’s registration packet. Data were collected over the course of the conference. The home exercise programs were either mailed or requested in person by one of the investigators. The home exercise programs were reviewed for Flesch reading ease, the Flesch-Kincaid grade level, and the presence of diagrams. Results: Only 25% of PTs report that they clinically assess or screen for problems related to illiteracy. Seven percent (n=3) of the respondents recognized the incidence of illiteracy in United States, although 65% (n=28) were aware of the relationship of illiteracy to poorer health status. The average Flesch reading ease was 75.08 ± 18.99 and the grade level was 4.59 ± 3.59. Each of the 10 home exercise programs included pictures or diagrams. Discussion and Conclusion: Clinical implications of this study include recognition of the need to employ appropriate reading levels for patient educational materials, from HEPs to educational brochures. Physical therapists must become more aware of health literacy by implementing the most appropriate interventions to allow for the best possible outcomes for the patient.

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