Course: Risk Management Consult: Low Health Literacy
Author: Rosemary Gafner and James Schutte
AMA PRA Category 1 credits: 5
Estimated Hours to Complete Course: 4.50
Estimated Minutes to Complete Test: 30
Course Release Date: 1/1/2013
Course Expiration Date: 12/31/2021
This course examines the role of patients' low health literacy in risk management and patient safety.

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Risk Management Consult
Low Health Literacy


Low health literacy is not just a public health problem.  It affects physicians directly because they have a duty to educate patients and involve them in health care decisions irrespective of their level of health literacy.  If a patient suffers an untoward result and sues on the allegation that the result would not have occurred but for the doctor’s failure to inform the patient appropriately, that physician may be held liable for the consequences.


Upon completion of this course, a physician should be able to:

1. Understand how low health literacy contributes to poor outcomes.
2. Identify communication barriers that can interfere with a patient’s ability to comprehend medical instruction and participate in health care decisions.
3. Discuss how simplified communication practices can reduce medical errors, improve patient care, and reduce lawsuits.
4. Understand how the courts define a physician’s duty in a variety of situations he or she may encounter when dealing with patients with low health literacy.
5. Discuss ways of educating patients with limited vocabularies and poor reading skills.
6. Discuss the drawbacks of using friends or family members to translate for patients who cannot speak English.
7. Understand how cultural factors can affect patient health literacy, and list strategies for coping with such factors.
8. Explain why it is important to provide sign language interpreters for deaf patients.

Target Audience

This course has been developed for physicians who want to improve patient safety and reduce medical errors by confronting and addressing issues relating to patients’ abilities to understand health-related information. 


This is a self-study course consisting of text and CME test.  Physicians should read the course content, answer the test questions and submit the answers for scoring.  Those who complete the course with a score of 80 percent or higher will earn a maximum of 5 AMA PRA Category 1 creditsTM.


This course was developed by Rosemary Gafner, Ed.D. and James E. Schutte, Ph.D.  Their CVs are online at

CME Information

Medical Risk Management, Inc. is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) to provide continuing education for physicians.  Medical Risk Management, Inc.designates this enduring material for a maximum of 5 AMA PRA Category 1 creditsTM.  Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity.

Estimated time to complete this activity: 5 hours.

This course is valid for release January 1, 2018 and will expire on December 31, 2021.

 Commercial Support

This activity was developed solely by Medical Risk Management, Inc. without any outside commercial support.


Neither Dr. Gafner nor Dr. Schutte have anything to disclose.