Time Before Patients Seek Help Dictated by Health Literacy

Levels of health literacy dictate how long patients wait before seeking help from their physician, especially in the case of rheumatoid arthritis.

Health literacy levels can impact how long people wait before seeking help from their physician, according to research presented as part of the Rheumatoid Arthritis: the Public InformeD (RAPID) study.

Researchers from the University of Birmingham surveyed 3,000 individuals (29/71 percent male/ female, respectively) aged 18 to 90 years without a rheumatoid arthritis (RA) diagnosis in order to demonstrate the help seeking behaviors of patients with RA. The researchers commented that if RA treatment is initiated within 3 months of symptom onset, it leads to significantly improved outcomes when compared to delayed therapy.

However, many RA patients wait before they seek medical treatment, the authors noted, and they miss the vital treatment window. The survey the patients completed covered various topics, including: perceptions of seriousness, impact, and urgeny with which help should be sought for RA symptoms, symptoms of bowel cancer, and angina; self management of RA symptoms; barriers to help seeking; RA knowledge; information seeking strategies; and health literacy (HL) measured by the All Aspects of Health Literacy Scale (AAHLS), and covers the functional, communicative, and critical HL.

Of 669 completed and returned surveys, participants thought bowel cancer and angina were significantly more serious, had a bigger impact on daily life, and require medical advice more urgently than the symptoms of RA. This was especially true if only stiff and painful joints were described by those who were surveyed.

The researchers also found that the higher the level of HL, the more serious people tended to take RA symptoms, and therefore the more likely they were to quickly seek help. Communicative HL specifically seemed to have the biggest impact, the researchers said. The values indicated for both critical and communicative HL seemed to indicate the drive for searching for information, too.

Participants were most likely to seek help from their physician if the following conditions occurred: symptoms appeared very rapidly; symptoms spread to other parts of the body; they were not able to control symptoms themselves; they were struggling with everyday things or work; and/ or symptoms had an impact on their existing illness.

Participants would be most likely to delay seeking help from their physician if: there were difficulties getting an appointment; there was a fear of wasting the doctor’s time; they were busy being with the family or work; or they wanted to manage symptoms themselves before seeking medical attention.

“Health interventions need to be suitable for people at all levels of HL and different materials for different levels might need to be considered,” the authors wrote, continuing that the seriousness of RA should be highlighted. “Interventions should encourage people to seek help prior to symptoms becoming so severe that they interfere with daily tasks and discourage self management of symptoms for longer stretches of time.”