Objective. To ascertain the impact of literacy level on parents' understanding of medical information and ability to follow therapy prescribed for their children.

Design/Methods. A prospective cohort of parents accompanying their children for acute care. Parents were interviewed about demographic status, their child's health, and use of pediatric preventive services. The Rapid Estimate of Adult Literacy in Medicine (REALM) test was used to assess parental literacy. The same parent was interviewed 48 to 96 hours later and asked to recall the child's diagnosis, any medication prescribed, and instructions.

Results. A total of 633 patients were enrolled. Follow-up was obtained in 543 patients (85.8%). Mean parental age was 32.43 years (SD = 9.07). Mean REALM score was 57.6 (SD = 10.9), corresponding to a 7th- to 8th-grade reading level, with a mean parental educational level of 13.43 years (SD = 2.09). Low REALM score was significantly correlated with young parental age and parental education. African-American race was associated with lower REALM scores. After controlling for these variables, REALM score significantly correlated with parental perception of how sick the child was, but not with use of preventive services, comprehension of diagnosis, medication name and instructions, or ability to obtain and administer prescribed medications.

Conclusions. Parental literacy level did not correlate with use of preventive services or parental understanding of or ability to follow medical instructions for their children.

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