Health Literacy in Pharmacy Practice

To celebrate Health Literacy Month, PRUK have asked Paul Duell of the University of East Anglia to highlight the importance of health literacy and what it means to the medical profession.

The importance of addressing health literacy in pharmacy practice is well recognised in the United States of America and Australia but has yet to gain prominence in the UK. This is despite the evidence which shows that patients that have limited health literacy are more likely to have poorer medication adherence and a lower uptake of public health interventions. Recognising an individual’s health literacy needs allows for effective adaption of written and verbal information to actively support the patient access, understand and apply health information. Evidence indicates that written health information in the UK is too complex for 43% of working age adults (16-65 years) and that this figure rises to 61% if the health information includes numeracy.

Health literacy ability is classified into three groups, limited; marginal and adequate health literacy.
Awareness of differing health literacy abilities and the impact that will have on the individual’s healthcare is the starting point in getting pharmacy practice to change and to reduce health inequalities. Common practice in the US involves the use of ‘teach back’ where patients are encouraged to repeat back the information they have just been provided. This allows the healthcare professional to more accurately judge the patient’s understanding and check if they can apply the information to their own circumstances. Minimising the amount of information provided helps individuals with limited health literacy focus on the key messages they need. The specialist interest group Health literacy UK on its website www.healthliteracy.org.uk has additional advice on how to support patients with limited health literacy and is a useful resource to pharmacy personnel.

Paul Duell is currently working on a PRUK-funded project, “Determining Patient Health Literacy during a medicine consultation”. Paul has over 25 years experience of working in community pharmacy as a branch and area manager and as an independent contractor. During the last ten years he has worked extensively with Primary Care Trusts and has been a board member twice. Paul is currently the Chief Officer of Suffolk and Great Yarmouth Local Pharmaceutical Committee and a governor of the charity Coeliac UK.

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