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To conduct a systematic review to assess the effectiveness of patient education interventions delivered or directed by health professionals for people with musculoskeletal conditions who also have lower levels of literacy.
Electronic databases were searched from 1946 to May 2012. Randomized controlled trials with primary interventions designed specifically for individuals with musculoskeletal conditions and lower levels of literacy were eligible for inclusion. The quality of the study was determined by assessing method of randomization, allocation concealment, creation and maintenance of comparable groups, blinding of patients and providers, control of confounding, and the validity and reliability of outcome measures.
Of the 2,440 studies located using the search strategy, 6 studies met the inclusion criteria. Three public health community studies and 3 rheumatology clinic-based studies delivered educational programs to people with musculoskeletal conditions who also had lower levels of literacy. Three moderate quality studies suggest that musculoskeletal educational interventions had a small short-term effect on knowledge and 2 moderate quality studies suggest musculoskeletal interventions had a small effect on self-efficacy (although results on self-efficacy were conflicting in 1 of these studies). Only 1 moderate quality study showed a small effect on anxiety and 1 on self-perceived health and well-being in people with lower literacy.
High quality evidence is lacking on the effectiveness of musculoskeletal education interventions for people with lower literacy levels. Research programs that test the effectiveness of patient education interventions for arthritis must recruit and engage people with lower levels of literacy.