Health literacy is the communication part of healthcare. It’s about being able to get the healthcare you need, to follow advice, and to use information to manage your health.
I had a conversation about health literacy with Ann Privett, a community pharmacist. Ann places the highest value on using the professional relationship she has with her customers to increase their health literacy. Every interaction in the pharmacy is an opportunity to dispense care with the medicines. Ann says: “The conversation has two parts. First I have a chat with a customer to find their health literacy, then I work with them to increase their knowledge and understanding and meet their needs.”
Pharmacists understand that taking medicine properly can be challenging for many people. Several language tasks are involved in taking the right dose of the right medicine, in the right way, at the right time.
But talking is only one way of increasing people’s health literacy. Ann gives practical support as well — printing medicine labels in large font; midnight blue paint on a pack or bottle of night-time tablets, and sunny yellow for day-time tablets for another customer; showing people who take warfarin, or people who have diabetes the line on the graph when she measures their blood levels. One customer now uses her three different eye drops properly by following a chart Ann made for her. The chart matches her eye drops to pictures of a left eye and right eye, and morning and night.
People have better health and a better quality of life when they manage their medicines correctly. And the government saves money because healthier people don’t need unplanned healthcare.