Signs that a Patient May Have Limited Literacy

  • Incomplete or inaccurately completed forms
  • Frequently missed appointments, including those for specialty care or lab tests
  • Frequent medication errors
  • Lack of follow-through with referrals or recommended self-care
  • Claims of compliance; however, evidence of non-compliance
  • Apparent withdrawal or lack of interest during explanations
  • Consistently bringing a friend or family member to appointments
  • Responses when receiving written information:
    • “I forgot my glasses, I’ll read this when I get home.”
    • “I forgot my glasses; would you read this to me?”
    • “Let me bring this home and discuss it with my children/spouse.”
  • Responses when asked about medications:
    • Noticeably not reading the medication label
    • Unable to name their medications.
    • Unable to explain what their medications are for.
    • Unable to explain timing of their medications.26

There are several strategies dental professionals can use to help increase the chances that their patients will understand the verbal and written information they provide. These strategies are best employed as a universal precaution, as they benefit both patients who have limited literacy and those who don’t. Evidence suggests that even well-educated people and strong readers prefer clear communication and easy-to-read print materials.27,28