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Pharmaceutical Health Literacy

Pharmacy health literacy is the degree to which people can obtain, process, and understand basic health and medication information and pharmacy services required to make the right health decisions. Health policy experts estimate only 12 percent of adults have well-informed health literacy (for example. can read the prescription label correctly).

Medication mistakes are more likely to occur to patients with low health literacy, as they misinterpret the prescription label information and auxiliary labels.

Although literacy refers to an individual’s ability to read and write, the World Health Organization WHO defines health literacy to be the intellectual and social skills which determine the motivation and ability of an individual to gain access to, understand, and use information in such a way which promote and maintain good health.

Patients with low health literacy experience difficulty in understanding their medications leading to worse health outcomes. Pharmacists have formal assessment tools to identify these patients, so they can better tailor their patient education.

The levels of health literacy

Literacy is further divided into three levels by the National Center for Education Statistics: (1) prose literacy or the knowledge and skills required to search, comprehend, and use information from continuous texts, (2) document literacy or the knowledge and skills needed to search, comprehend, and use information from noncontiguous texts in different formats, and (3) quantitative literacy or the knowledge and skills necessary to perform quantitative tasks, for example, to determine and perform computation using numbers embedded in printed materials.

The most widespread screening tools for health literacy are the Rapid Estimate of Adult Literacy in Medicine (REALM) and the Test of Functional Health Literacy in Adults (TOFHLA)

Low health literacy makes a difference in quality of healthcare across different groups, including pediatric patients, elderly patients, and patients with language barriers. Pediatric patients are at particular risk of taking incorrect dosages of prescription and non-prescription medications. Eighty percent of the elderly population, age sixty years or older, have inadequate health literacy skills.

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