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