AHRQ Health Literacy Tool Helps New York Medical School Identify Barriers to Preventive Care

Prevention and Care Management
September 2009

The Mount Sinai School of Medicine's Cancer Prevention and Control Division used an AHRQ-funded health literacy tool—the Short Assessment of Health Literacy for Spanish-Speaking Adults (SAHLSA)—to determine the level of health literacy among a sample of Hispanic residents in East Harlem, New York City. The tool was part of a structured interview to determine the barriers and facilitators of colorectal cancer screening.

Katherine DuHamel, PhD, Department of Psychiatry at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, headed the project. She says, "After reviewing several published measures of health literacy, we selected the SAHLSA."

Lina Jandorf, MA, Department of Oncological Sciences at Mount Sinai and co-lead on the project, confirms that the SAHLSA was chosen because it was found to be the most appropriate health literacy survey. "It was culturally tailored to Latinos—perfect for use in our low-income, low literacy population," she notes.

Mount Sinai used the SAHLSA with Spanish-speaking individuals who were eligible to volunteer as study participants at an academic outpatient clinic, two community health clinics, and several community senior centers. The 50-minute assessment was conducted in person by bilingual interviewers. Most of the 400 interviews—83 percent—were conducted in Spanish.

The SAHLSA, developed by AHRQ-funded researcher Shoou-Yih Daniel Lee, PhD, and colleagues, is designed to be used in either a clinic or community setting to screen for limited health literacy among Spanish speakers.

Jandorf adds, "Our preliminary results revealed that health literacy was not found to be associated with colorectal cancer screening rates, specifically via colonoscopy. Both those participants who had had a colonoscopy and those who had not had similar SAHLSA scores."

The Cancer Prevention and Control Division is part of the Department of Oncological Sciences at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Researchers focus on bringing cancer education and screening programs to medically underserved communities, working with agencies and health organizations to decrease disparities among minority residents in Harlem.

Impact Case Study Identifier: 
AHRQ Product(s): Research
Topics(s): Health Literacy, Disparities
Geographic Location: New York
Implementer: Mount Sinai School of Medicine
Date: 09/01/2009

Lee SY, Bender DE, Ruiz RE, Cho YI. Development of an easy-to-use Spanish health literacy test. August 2006. Health Services Research 41:1392-1412. (HS13233)

Page last reviewed October 2014