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The evidence-based development of an intervention to improve clinical health literacy practice

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Gill Rowlands, Dr Anu Vaittinen, Dr Lynne Stobbart, Dr Richard Thomson



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Low health literacy is an issue with high prevalence in the UK and internationally. It has a social gradient with higher prevalence in lower social groups, and is linked with higher rates of long-term health conditions, lower self-rated health, and greater difficulty self-managing long-term health conditions. Improved medical services and practitioner awareness of a patient’s health literacy can help to address these issues. An intervention was developed to improve General Practitioner and Practice Nurse health literacy skills and practice. A feasibility study was undertaken to examine and improve the elements of the intervention. The intervention had two parts: educating primary care doctors and nurses about identifying and enhancing health literacy (patient capacity to get hold of, understand and apply information for health) to improve their health literacy practice, and implementation of on-screen ‘pop-up’ notifications that alerted GPs and nurses when seeing a patient at risk of low health literacy. Rapid reviews of the literature were undertaken to optimise the intervention. Four General Practices were recruited, and the intervention was then applied to doctors and nurses through training followed by alerts via the practice clinical IT system. After the intervention, focus groups were held with participating practitioners and a patient and carer group, to further develop the intervention. The rapid literature reviews identified (i) key elements for effectiveness of doctors and nurse training including: multi-component training, role-play, learner reflection, and identification of barriers to changing practice and (ii) key elements for effectiveness of alerts on clinical computer systems including: ‘stand-alone’ notification, automatically generated and prominent display of advice, linkage with practitioner education, and use of notifications within a targeted environment. The findings from the post-hoc focus groups indicated that practitioner awareness and skills had improved as a result of the training, and that the clinical alerts reminded them to incorporate this into their clinical practice. Suggested improvements to the training included more information on health literacy and how the clinical alerts were generated, and more practical role playing including initiating discussions on health literacy with patients. It was suggested that the wording of the clinical alert be improved, to emphasise its purpose in improving practitioner skills. The feasibility study improved the intervention, increasing its potential usefulness and acceptability in clinical practice. Future studies will explore the impact on clinical care through a pilot and a randomised controlled trial.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Rowlands G, Tabassum B, Campbell P, Harvey S, Vaittinen A, Stobbart L, Thomson R, Wardle-McLeish M, Protheroe J

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health

Year: 2020

Volume: 17

Issue: 5

Print publication date: 26/02/2020

Online publication date: 26/02/2020

Acceptance date: 20/01/2020

Date deposited: 06/03/2020

ISSN (print): 1661-7827

ISSN (electronic): 1660-4601

Publisher: MDPIAG


DOI: 10.3390/ijerph17051513

PubMed id: 32111050


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Funder referenceFunder name
National Institute for Health Research School for Primary Care Research (NIHR SPCR)