Health Literacy and Healthcare Utilization: A Study of Bhutia and Lepcha Mothers in Pakyong and Dzongu District of Sikkim, India

Author(s): Rinchen OB*, Bal Rakshase and Shanti Suman Tigg

Background & Objective: Health Literacy is an important determinant of health alongside general literacy. An individual with limited health literacy is more likely to make medication errors, and have lesser health knowledge, poor health status, high probability for hospitalizations, and higher health expenditure compared to an individual with adequate health literacy. The objectives of this study is to assess the health literacy level and to analyze how the health literacy status affects the treatment-seeking behavior and utilization of healthcare services among the two tribes (Bhutia and Lepcha) of Pakyong and Dzongu district of Sikkim by testing Rapid Estimate Adult Literacy in Medicine (REALM) technique and to compare the health literacy levels to educational status and other socio-demographic characteristics. Materials & Methods: The most commonly used word recognition test (REALM) was administered to assess the HL status of 54 mothers in their reproductive age (15-49 years) mainly the expecting mothers and the mothers with a year old child in Eastern and Northern Sikkim, India. The sum of correctly pronounced words was used to assign a grade-equivalent reading level. Scores 0 to 44 recorded reading skills at or below the 6th grade level, scores from 45 to 60 indicated skills at the 7th or 8th grade level, and scores above 60 depicted skills at the high-school level or higher. Results: The results showed that in both the Lepcha and Bhutia community the Health literacy score was low based on their level of education and age. Age also showed a significant impact on Health literacy score. It was seen that mothers between the age 26-35 years in both the community (i.e. Bhutia 28.60% and Lepcha 71.40%) had significantly higher health literacy score. Conclusion: The study aimed at concluding how the individual’s level of health literacy affects the use of healthcare services. Since health literacy is of continued and increasing concern for health professionals, as it is seen as a primary factor behind health disparities. Therefore, improving health literacy is the key to any health intervention or health promotion.


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