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Quantitative Literacy on the Web of Science, 2 – Mining the Health Numeracy Literature for Assessment Items

A topic search of the Web of Science (WoS) database using the term “numeracy” produced a bibliography of 293 articles, reviews and editorial commentaries (Oct 2008). The citation graph of the bibliography clearly identifies five benchmark papers (1995-2001), four of which developed numeracy assessment instruments. Starting with the 80 papers that cite these benchmarks, we identified a set of 25 papers (1995-2008) in which the medical research community reports the development and/or application of health-numeracy assessments. In all we found 10 assessment instruments from which we have compiled a total of 48 assessment items. There are both general and context-specific tests, with the wide range in the latter illustrated by names such as the Diabetes Numeracy Test and the Asthma Numeracy Questionnaire. There is also a Medical Data Interpretation Test and a Subjective Numeracy Scale. Much of this literature discusses the validity and reliability of the test, and many papers include item-by-item results of the tests from when they were applied in the research reported in the papers. The research that used the tests was directed at exploring such subjects as the patients’ ability to evaluate risks and benefits in order to make informed decisions; to understand and carry out instructions in order to self-manage their medical conditions; and, in research settings, to understand what the researchers were asking in their assessments (e.g., quantified quality of life) that require comparison of numerical information. We present the collection of items as a potential resource for educators interested in numeracy assessments in context.

This extensive and well written report describes research conducted on the term ‘numeracy’ in the Web of Science database. There are many aspects of health numeracy, including: Primary numeric skills (numeration, counting, hierarchy, then also fractions, proportions, probabilities), applied numeracy (risk communication, decision making) and interpretative numeracy (the ability to interpret strengths and limitations of numbers). The authors report on research on effective risk communication through visual and verbal means. They report on many health literacy research projects devised over the last decade that explore health numeracy in a particular domain (diabetes, anticoagulation control, mammography and others). Discussion of the Subjective Numeracy Scale (Fagerlin 2007) that asked respondents to assess their ability to perform various mathematical tasks and for their preferences regarding data presentation. The authors end with a good historical overview of the questions asked in numeracy research papers and how they have evolved over the last years.

H L. Vacher, Todd Chavez, “Quantitative Literacy on the Web of Science, 2 – Mining the Health Numeracy Literature for Assessment Items,” Numeracy, Vol. 2, Iss. 1, Article 5, 2009, p. 1-47

Expertise Level

Professional Field
Healthcare, Sociology

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