A New Method to Measure Health Literacy


Study Title: Development and Validation of a Canadian Health Literacy Measurement Tool for Chronic Disease Management

Principle Investigator: Dr. Mark Fitzgerald, Head of the UBC Respiratory Division and co-Director of UBC Institute for Heart and Lung

Co-Principal Investigator: Jacek Kopec, Senior Research Scientist, Arthritis Research Canada, Professor and Head, School of Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia

Start date: 07/2015

End date: 06/2020

Why do this research? Whereas literacy is the ability to read and write, Health Literacy (HL) is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.  Low levels of literacy in general, and HL in particular have a strong impact on population health and the cost and quality of health care. Low HL is associated with:

  • increased hospitalizations;
  • greater emergency care use;
  • poorer ability to take medications appropriately or follow disease treatment;
  • poorer ability to interpret labels and health messages;
  • poorer overall health status and
  • higher mortality.

In order to improve HL we need to be able to measure it reliably. Current methods of measuring HL are inadequate. The purpose of this study is to develop a new test to measure HL based on recent recommendations from the Canadian Expert Panel on Health Literacy.

What will be done? Our goal is to develop and validate a new HL measurement tool that will measure all five domains of HL: ability to access; understand; evaluate; communicate; and use health information. The study will be done in five stages:

  • getting feedback from experts;
  • developing the questions;
  • determining if the content is appropriate;
  • developing a French version of the tool;
  • showing that both the English and French versions effectively measure what they are supposed to measure.

Who is involved? We use a patient participatory approach that engages French and English-speaking patients with the most commonly occurring respiratory diseases: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma. An expert Advisory Board advises the researchers.

How do people get involved? The study is coordinated by Iraj Poureslami, a Senior Researcher in the Respiratory Medicine Division, UBC. His email is: iraj.poureslami@ubc.ca.


Shawn Aaron, Céline Bergeron, Louis-Philippe Boulet, Jean Bourbeau, Roger S Goldstein, Samir Gupta, Nadia Ahmed Khan, Darcy Marciniuk, Laura Nimmon, Mohammad Poureslami, Irving Rootman, Richard Sawatzky, Wan Tan

Funding Agency:  Canadian Institutes of Health Research