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The Importance of Communicating Clearly with Our Patients

Mar 01, 2008

            I have been thinking a lot lately about the effect of poor health literacy on our patients’ ability to understand and correctly use their medi­cations. Only 12 percent of adults have proficient health literacy, according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy. In other words, nearly nine out of 10 adults may lack the skills needed to successfully manage their health and prevent disease.

            Other studies back that up, finding, for example, that patients suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, or HIV/AIDS know less about their illness and how to man­age it properly if they have poor health literacy.

            ASHP cares deeply about this public health issue and is doing a number of things to address it. As you’ll see in the 2007 Annual Report that accompanies this magazine, we recently collaborated with the ASHP Research and Education Foundation to create My Medicine List™.

            Designed to help patients document the kind of medica­tion information that is essential to share with pharmacists and other healthcare providers, the tool is an outcome of the Continuity of Care in Medication Use Summit that ASHP and the Foundation sponsored last year. The list, which was specially designed to meet health literacy require­ments, can be found on www.SafeMedication.com and www.ashpfoundation.org.

            I encourage you to begin thinking about how you can help improve the ways in which you communicate with patients about their medications. Don’t take anything for granted. If health literacy isn’t on your administration’s radar screen, begin to talk about it. Share some facts and figures with your phar­macy team about the impact of literacy on compliance, patient health, and the cost of healthcare.

            The data is readily available on many federal, state and private healthcare Web sites, including www.health.gov, www.nih.gov, and www.hrsa.gov.  Many of the most relevant studies are captured on ASHP’s Web site; simply go to www.ashp.org and search on the term “health literacy.”

           And be sure to share My Medicine List with your patients, colleagues, family, and friends. A key part of our mission as pharmacists is to ensure that our patients understand how to use their medications safely and effectively. Beginning to break down health literacy barriers can go a long way toward that goal.

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