The Newest Vital Sign: A New Health Literacy
Assessment Tool for Health Care Providers
The Newest Vital Sign is a bilingual (English and Spanish)
screening tool that identifies patients at risk for low health literacy. The tool
can be administered in a clinical setting in just three minutes. The test result
provides information about the patient that will allow providers to appropriately
adapt their communication practices in an effort to achieve better health outcomes.
The Newest Vital Sign (NVS) is Pfizer Inc's latest contribution
to the health literacy movement, and has been researched by health literacy experts
at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in collaboration with colleagues
at the University of North Carolina.
After testing with more than 1,000 patients, the NVS has been shown to address some
of the limitations of previously available instruments. As with previous instruments,
the Newest Vital Sign assesses general literacy and numeracy
skills as applied to health information, yielding an overall estimate of health
literacy. In contrast to the previous instruments, however, it can be administered
in about three minutes and is available in both English and Spanish.
How Does the Newest Vital Sign Work?
The Newest Vital Sign is based on a nutrition label from
an ice cream container. Patients are given the label and then asked 6 questions
about how they would interpret and act on the information contained on the label.
Specifically, the patient is handed a copy of the nutrition label and then asked
a series of 6 questions about it. Patients can and should retain the label so they
can refer to it while answering questions. It is not necessary to give the patient
time to review the label before asking the questions. Rather, they will review the
label as they are asked and answer the questions.
The questions are asked orally and the responses recorded by a health care provider
on a special score sheet, which contains the correct answers. Based on the number
of correct responses, the health care provider can assess the patient's health literacy
What Can Providers Do to Improve Patient Understanding?
If the Newest Vital Sign results indicate a patient has
limited health literacy skills, providers can use simple and fast clear health communication
techniques to help patients better understand their medical issues and follow instructions,
which may positively impact their health outcomes.
What Research Supports the Newest Vital Sign?
The Newest Vital Sign has been tested with more than 1,000
English and Spanish-speaking adults. The first peer-reviewed clinical study of the
NVS, Quick Assessment of Literacy in Primary Care: The Newest Vital Sign,
was published in the Annals of Family Medicine (December 2005). In this
study, the NVS was validated against the TOHFLA and was shown to take approximately
three minutes to administer.
Further research is in development to test the NVS in combination with various clear
health communication interventions.
Newest Vital Sign - English
Newest Vital Sign - Spanish
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