The Importance of Patient Literacy and How You Can Better Promote It

Pharmacy work is a balancing act of efficiency and accuracy. Patients want their pharmacy experience to be as convenient and seamless as possible, while still receiving exceptional service.

It’s the second part of the “efficiency and accuracy” equation that we want to focus on here. Your job as an independent pharmacist is to give your patients medications in a simple, yet accurate, way.

In the hustle and bustle of the job, there needs to be room to improve accuracy with patient literacy.

The act of taking a pill is simple, but it can do wonders for a patient’s health and well-being. What’s more, they will benefit from knowing what exactly they’re putting in their body.

Patient literacy is all about that concept. Among the many hats you wear as an independent pharmacist, informing the uninformed is one of them — and we’re here to help. 

Here’s what you need to know about patient literacy and how you can better inform your patients. 

What is Patient Literacy? 

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) defines patient health literacy as “the degree to which individuals are able to obtain, process, and understand basic health and medication information and pharmacy services needed to make appropriate health decisions.”

According to the AHRQ, only 12% of adults have proficient health literacy. In other words, a large portion of patients take their medications without truly knowing what they’re taking. 

That’s alarming for a variety of reasons. For one, this statistic shows how passive patients can be on their health journey. Since they likely are unaware of how their medication works, they likely don’t know the side effects.

For example, common side effects of blood pressure medications include cough, diarrhea, dizziness, and headaches. These symptoms can alarm an uninformed patient, making it all the more important that you keep them filled in.

The Importance of Patient Literacy 

A lack of patient literacy has many consequences, including: 

  • Poorer health outcomes
  • Increased hospitalizations 
  • Greater use of emergency care 
  • Missed prescription refills
  • Difficulty understanding medication instructions and warning labels 

These consequences also impact your independent pharmacy. Patient literacy affects patient adherence, thus impacting your pharmacy’s profits and relationship with doctors and third-party providers. 

Patient literacy is a vital element in your pharmacy’s success. Your relationship with your patients directly impacts how you can operate in the future. It’s all about patient loyalty, and the best way to gain a person’s trust is through communication. 

How to Increase Patient Literacy

1. Offer a Helping Hand 

Patient care is at the heart of the pharmacy industry. Not only do you want your patients to feel and be healthier, but you also want them to actively participate in their health journey. 

Patient consultations are the most basic but effective method of promoting patient literacy. They allow you to tell your patients about the medication in a clear and concise way — emphasis on the concise. 

Your time as a pharmacist is valuable, and so is your patients’.. Give your patients information about the medication in a comprehensive yet easy-to-follow way. Achieving this balancing act is difficult, but it will come naturally the more you do it. 

Encourage your patients to ask questions they may have. The pharmacy industry is complex, so it’s completely fine if they feel out of the loop. It’s your job to help them fill in the blanks. 

Your patients will be more open to learning about their medication if they know you’re there to help guide them. It’s a simple act, but it can go a long way. 

2. Use Your Pharmacy Software System

Now it’s time to see how your pharmacy software system comes into play. Your software is filled to the brim with medical information that can promote patient literacy. 

Patient consultations are indeed helpful and necessary, but some prefer to have their medical information printed out. Your pharmacy software system should have medication guides for every drug you dispense. 

These med guides should be ready to be printed upon patient request. A good rule of thumb is to have your software print automatically print out med guides when dispensing a new medication. That med guide will go hand-in-hand with your consultation. 

You also need to consider certain communication barriers. Some patients are not fluent in English and might misunderstand medical information. Make sure your pharmacy software system has a language translation service or at least a third-party translation service. 

Read our “5 Ways to Make the Most of Your Medical Translation Service” blog for more information on the importance of medical translation. 

3. Get Rid of the Jargon

As stated before, the pharmacy industry is complex. There’s a reason why it takes a near decade to become a pharmacist. 

Still, a major responsibility of an independent pharmacist is to streamline the customer experience. It goes beyond the checkout process or getting a prior authorization to go through. 

It means making patients’ health journeys a little less intimidating by making things simple. It all begins with — you guessed it — communication. Avoid overusing jargon and industry-specific language. 

Think of counseling as giving your patient a crash course on the medication they’re taking. You’ll lose them once you start delivering an extended seminar on the medication’s chemical makeup. Start with the basics, and if they want a little more information, then you can get a little more niche.

Again, the med guide is your best friend when giving consultations. Have it available at a moment’s notice so you can give a well-rounded consultation in record time. 

How Will You Promote Patient Literacy?

Studies show that the majority of patients don’t know the ins and outs of the medicine they’re taking. As a result, the path of their health journey becomes increasingly blurry with no clear destination. 

Promoting patient literacy will produce fantastic results for both your pharmacy and your patients, so make sure you take the next steps to do it.