Health Literacy in Orthopedic Surgery: A Systematic Review

Amanda Lans, John R. Bales, Mitchell S. Fourman, Pranati P. Borkhetaria, Jorrit Jan Verlaan, Joseph H. Schwab

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background: Limited health literacy has been associated with adverse health outcomes. Undergoing orthopedic surgery often requires patients to make complex decisions and adhere to complicated instructions, suggesting that health literacy skills might have a profound impact on orthopedic surgery outcomes. Purpose: We sought to review the literature for studies investigating the level of health literacy in patients undergoing orthopedic surgery and also to assess how those studies report factors affecting health equity. Methods: We conducted a systematic search of PubMed, Embase, and Cochrane Library for all health literacy studies published in the orthopedic surgery literature up to February 8, 2022. Search terms included synonyms for health literacy and for all orthopedic surgery subspecialties. Two reviewers independently extracted study data in addition to indicators of equity reporting using the PROGRESS+ checklist (Place of Residence, Race/Ethnicity, Occupation, Gender/sex, Religion, Education, Social capital, Socioeconomic status, plus age, disability, and sexual orientation). Results: The search resulted in 616 studies; 9 studies remained after exclusion criteria were applied. Most studies were of arthroplasty (4/9; 44%) or trauma (3/9; 33%) patients. Validated health literacy assessments were used in 4 of the included studies, and only 3 studies reported the rate of limited health literacy in the patients studied, which ranged between 34% and 38.5%. At least one PROGRESS+ item was reported in 88% (8/9) of the studies. Conclusions: We found a paucity of appropriately designed studies that used validated measures of health literacy in the field of orthopedic surgery. The potential impact of health literacy on orthopedic patients and their outcomes has yet to be elucidated. Thoughtful, high-quality trials across diverse demographics and geographies are warranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)120-127
Number of pages8
JournalHSS Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • ethics
  • general topics
  • health policy
  • outcomes
  • scientific reporting
  • socioeconomic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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