Low Pharmaceutical Literacy – a Threat to Good Health

According to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, Health literacy is defined as an individual's ability to comprehend, obtain, and process information related to healthcare and medical services. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) further emphasizes efforts to promote literacy on the organization level. Literacy about pharmaceuticals allows individuals to gain knowledge regarding medications they take and know how they can use this knowledge to their benefit. Often, medical professionals use unnecessary medical jargon, leaving patients unaware of the risk of taking particular medications. Health literacy aims to reduce the occurrence of such instances.


St Luke, patron of medicine There is a correlation between health literacy and healthcare outcomes in patients. The more you know the risks and side effects of treatment, the better-informed your decisions will be.

Health care literacy is not just the responsibility of a patient but also the responsibility of an organization. This is where the term organization healthcare literacy comes into play; it is the moral and ethical responsibility of healthcare providers to be as transparent when informing about treatment protocols and ensuring accessibility and availability to all necessary information. Patients with low health literacy are more prone to poor treatment outcomes, self-management, and less awareness of their disease's nature and what role medications will play in the treatment process.

Patients with low health literacy are more prone to poor treatment outcomes, inadequate self-management, and less awareness of their disease's nature and what role medications play in the treatment process.

Demographics of Low Health Literacy

In the US alone low health literacy results in an economic loss of $106 billion to $238 billion each year. According to research in 2018, more than 80 million American adults have inadequate health literacy. It is important to note that there is a strong correlation between age and low health literacy; older people have lower literacy.

Additional factors which contribute towards America's growth rate of low health literacy are;

  • Language barriers
  • Cultural variations
  • Lack of education
  • Low income

Negative Implications of Poor Health Literacy

Low Health literacy has consistently been associated with poor outcomes. Without adequate knowledge, an individual's ability is skewed when assessing the disease's severity, effect, and treatment prognosis.

Other negative implications of low health literacy include

  • Poor status of health
  • Poor understanding of the disease
  • Poor understanding of the treatment Increased mortality
  • Poor self-management of disease Lower self-reporting of disease

How to Improve Health Literacy

Many policy makers believe that a co-operative effort of the governmental and non-governmental organizations can boost health literacy levels. Medical professionals can improve the literacy level by;

  • Avoiding unnecessary medical jargon use and instead using language employed by laymen when describing the disease, treatment, and side effects
  • Asking patients to repeat what they've understood
  • Avoiding close-ended questions when taking the patient’s history
  • Speak slowly and repeating instructions multiple times
  • Using images to convey information

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