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3 posts from April 2013


DEA Drug Take Back Day - April 27 2013 - Proper Disposal of Medications

Do you have excess prescription or non-prescription medications laying around?  Failure to dispose of unused/unwanted medications, particularly controlled substances, presents a significant risk for drug diversion.  Get rid of excess medications at the upcoming DEA Drug Take Back Day, scheduled for April 27th, from 10AM-2PM. See the website, www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_disposal/takeback/ for locations near you.

If you can't get there, at least follow these simple directions:
1. Mix medicines (do NOT crush tablets or capsules) with an unpalatable substance such as kitty litter or used coffee grounds;
2. Place the mixture in a container such as a sealed plastic bag; and
3. Throw the container in your household trash

For most medicines, DO NOT FLUSH them down the toilet. There are a few you can flush down the toilet - check with your pharmacist to see if yours is one of them.


The Need to Assess and Address Health Literacy

Health literacy is a topic that has been attaining increasing interest in the health care community. A recent article in US News & World Report cites research conducted by Kaiser Permanente and the University of Washington School of Medicine which found that low health literacy was correlated with poorer medication adherence. Given the fact that medication non-adherence costs an approximated $290 billion for the United States, improving health literacy is of prime importance.

To understand this, we must first understand what low health literacy means. Low health literacy
implies that individuals may be unable to carry out tasks as simple as comprehending the information on a medication label. According to the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy, 36% of Americans may be unable to determine something as simple as the time at which a medication should be taken after reading a drug label. The issue of poor health literacy is further complicated by the difficulty of
identifying it. Patients may come into contact with a myriad of health care providers including, doctors, nurses, and pharmacists but may not spend enough time with any one of those individuals for health illiteracy to be assessed and addressed.

In order to address the problem, we must identify it. Following this logic, various health literacy assessments have been utilized as researchers search for novel, yet efficient means to identify the issue in the brief time that clinicians are able to interact with patients. Aside from clinicians, the
duty of addressing health literacy further extends beyond the scope of clinical practice. Health literacy plays a key role in any material that communicates ideas pertinent to health care. As a result, this applies responsibilities to various parties including the government, pharmaceutical companies, and educators.

While we may not always have all the appropriate tools or even the time to be able to classify individuals with low health literacy, it is important to keep the issue in mind. As new and improved assessment tools and interventions continue to develop, it would be wise to implement a
proactive approach of communicating health related ideas in a simple and concise manner which in turn would the benefit patient, providers and payors. 

Anita A. Pothen, PharmD ’14


Health Literacy: Recognizing the Need for Better Communication

In 2003, the National Assessment of Adult
found that only 12% of Americans were proficient in health literacy. As defined by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, health literacy is the “degree to which an individual has the capacity to obtain, communicate, process and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions.” By the basis of this definition, literacy rates do not directly correlate with health literacy rates. The fact that nearly 9 out of 10 Americans experience difficulty when using everyday health related information that is readily available sheds light on the need for interventions to improve communication.

Researchers have found that low health literacy can be a major contributing factor to poor medication adherence, which together, can impair treatment success for patients. Simply put, if patients are unable to understand what medications they are taking and how they should be taking them, clinicians cannot expect clinical benefits from their prescribed treatment regimens. It is in these instances that the utility of the pharmacist can be appreciated. As one of the most readily accessible health care providers, pharmacists are a in a unique position to improve provider-patient
and bridge any gaps in misunderstanding that are caused by health illiteracy. For example, upon discharge from a hospital, patients are often bombarded with packets of discharge paperwork, lists of medications and a stack of new prescriptions. One study that examined the
relationship between health literacy and hospital reutilization
found that patients with low health literacy were more likely than patients with adequate health literacy to return to the hospital or emergency room within 30 days of discharge. If a pharmacist could determine the health literacy level of the patient and counsel accordingly, patients would be able to walk away with an enhanced understanding, which could provide the foundation for medication adherence and potentially reduce re-hospitalizations. The issue is that at this time, it is not so easy to determine what level of health literacy patients fall into so it would be especially difficult to determine this in a quick visit to a retail pharmacy. However, with improved patient-clinician interactions, health literacy levels could be determined more efficiently thereby paving the way for patient-specific solutions.

While there is no Hooked On Phonics approach to improve health literacy, steps have been made in the right direction. As an objective of Healthy People 2020, health literacy and the knowledge of its
 are getting an increasing amount of attention. As initiatives like the National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy tackle the issue head on, clinicians can implement strategies to shorten the gap in misunderstanding and thereby improve health outcomes.

Anita A. Pothen, PharmD ‘14

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