Pharmacists And Health Literacy | Steve Leuck, PharmD | RxEconsult

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Pharmacists Can Improve Health Literacy Category: Medication and Healthcare Cost by - September 14, 2013 | Views: 27305 | Likes: 4 | Comment: 8  

Pharmacists and Health Literacy


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What is Health Literacy?

So here is how it goes, the patient sees their doctor and then stops by the pharmacy to pick up a prescription for their antidepressant, nerve pain, blood pressure or whichever type of medication they are to receive that day. When their prescription is ready for pick up, perhaps they decline the counseling session because they are in a hurry or feel that their doctor went over the medication well enough with them. Maybe they do have a counseling session with their pharmacist. The pharmacist is pressed for time and there are three people waiting in line for counseling sessions so the pharmacist spends two minutes covering all the important aspects of the medication. They ask if there are any questions and then send the patient on their way.

This isn’t how it always happens; however, I am sure many of you reading this, whether you are health care provider or patient, can relate on some level to the above scenario. We are facing a serious medication-education-gap that is growing on a daily basis between patients and their health care providers. When we talk about health literacy, we are discussing the ability of a patient to understand their basic health information. 

Understanding basic health information includes (but not limited to):

  • Knowing your diagnosis and being able to describe it in one or two sentences.
  • Understanding your medications, why you are taking them, what to look for, which diagnosis they correspond to, cautions, what to do if you miss a dose, etc…
  • What are the short and long term consequences of not treating your diagnosis?
  • Who do you call for questions about your health care or medication questions?

Results from a recent study showed clearly that patients with Health Literacy limitations had significantly decreased adherence to their medication compared with patients with no Health Literacy limitations. Results from another study show that an increased rate of hospital readmissions for ambulatory heart failure patients was directly related to decreased health literacy of the specific patient population. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that if we are able to help increase the health literacy of patients, we will also be increasing adherence to medications and decreasing hospital readmissions. This does all sound so strait forward and basic; however, it has somehow slipped through our fingers over the past 20 years.

What happened to the time when pharmacists were not pressured into filling as many prescriptions as was possible on any given day? Was there a particular reason, other than financial, that insurance companies began to require that their patients receive prescriptions in the mail, rather than stop by their local pharmacy and pick up their prescription every three months? Pharmacists are medication educators. As stated in the American Society of Health System Pharmacists Guidelines on Pharmacist-Conducted Patient Education and Counseling:

“The pharmacy profession has accepted responsibility for providing patient education and counseling in the context of pharmaceutical care to improve patient adherence and reduce medication related problems.”

This is a call for all pharmacists to step-up and do their part at helping to increase the health literacy of all we come in contact with. As stated earlier, even a patient’s basic understanding of their diagnosis and medication treatment plan may help them adhere to their medication profile and decrease the chance of a costly hospital admission.

About the Author

Steve Leuck, Pharm.D., is President/Owner of AudibleRx. AudibleRx provides OBRA 90 based Medication Specific Counseling Sessionsin digital/audio format. Both individual and group memberships are available. Dr. Leuck also works full time as a community pharmacist in a clinic setting where he practices his counseling on a daily basis.

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