Reliability of self-reported health literacy screening in spine patients

Amanda Lans, John R. Bales, Mitchell S. Fourman, Daniel G. Tobert, Jorrit Jan Verlaan, Joseph H. Schwab

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND CONTEXT: Limited health literacy has previously been associated with increased health care utilization, worse general health status and self-reported health, and increased mortality. Identifying and accommodating patients with limited health literacy may offer an avenue towards mitigating adverse health outcomes and reduce unnecessary health care expenditure. Due to the challenges associated with implementation of lengthy health literacy assessments, the Brief Health Literacy Screening Instrument was developed. However, to our knowledge, there are no reports on the accuracy of this screening questionnaire, with or without the inclusion of sociodemographic characteristics, when predicting limited health literacy in orthopaedic spine patients. PURPOSE: To evaluate the reliability and predictive accuracy of self-reported health literacy screening questions with and without the inclusion of sociodemographic variables in orthopaedic spine patients. STUDY DESIGN: Cross-sectional. PATIENT SAMPLE: Patients seen at a tertiary urban academic hospital-based multi-surgeon spine center OUTCOME MEASURES: Brief Health Literacy Screening Instrument (BRIEF), and the Newest Vital Sign (NVS) health literacy assessment tool. METHODS: Between December 2021 and February 2022, consecutive English-speaking patients over the age of 18 presenting as new patients to an urban, hospital-based outpatient spine clinic were approached for participation. A sociodemographic survey, the BRIEF, and the NVS Health Literacy Assessment Tool were administered verbally. Simple and multivariable logistic regression was utilized to assess the accuracy of each BRIEF question individually, and collectively, at predicting limited health literacy as defined by the NVS. Further regression analysis included sociodemographic variables (age, body mass index, race, ethnicity, highest educational degree, employment status, marital status, annual household income, insurance status, and self-reported health. RESULTS: A total of 262 patients [mean age (years), 57 ± 17] were included in this study. One hundred thirty-four (51%) were male, 223 (85%) were White, and 151 (58%) were married. Patient BRIEF scores were as follows: 23 (9%) limited, 43 (16%) marginal, and 196 (75%) adequate. NVS scores identified 87 (33%) patients with possible limited health literacy. BRIEF items collectively demonstrated fair accuracy in the prediction of limited health literacy (area under the receiver operating characteristic curve, 0.76; 95% CI, 0.70−0.82). Individually, the fourth BRIEF item (“How confident are you in filling out medical forms by yourself?”) was the best predictor of limited health literacy (area under the receiver operating characteristic curve, 0.67; 95% CI, 0.60−0.73). The predictive accuracy of the BRIEF items, both individually and collectively, increased with the inclusion of sociodemographic variables within the logistic regression. Specific characteristics independently associated with limited health literacy were self-identified Black race, retired or disabled employment status, single or divorced marital status, high school education or below, and self-reported “poor” health. CONCLUSIONS: Limited health literacy has implications for patient outcomes and health care costs. Our results show that the BRIEF questionnaire is a low-cost screening tool that demonstrates fair predictability in determining limited health literacy within a population of spine patients. Self-reported health literacy assessments may be more feasible in daily practice and easier to implement into clinical workflow.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)715-722
Number of pages8
JournalSpine Journal
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2023


  • Health communication
  • Health equity
  • Health literacy
  • Health literacy screening
  • Social determinants of health
  • Spine surgery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Clinical Neurology


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