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The health literacy factor in pharmacies

By Pat Kelly - 30th Apr 2021

Some readers have had to reorganise their pharmacies dramatically since the outbreak of SARS-CoV-2, with the reduced footfall hitting many pharmacies hard. Many of you who may have previously been resistant to a more Internet-based business model have had to embrace new technology and one aspect of this that should be considered is health literacy, both online and in the community.

OECD research shows that one-in-six adults in Ireland have difficulty reading and understanding everyday texts, which of course assumes extra importance when it comes to understanding healthcare information. The chat over the pharmacy counter has become more important than ever as people have been required to live in isolation that is unnatural and contrary to our instincts and very way of life. You may have less time and more people who just want to shoot the breeze for a few minutes. That can induce a unique form of stress for the pharmacist.

No doubt many of those one-in-six mentioned above depend on the community pharmacist for clear advice on how and when to take their medications, as well as the general health advice, recommendations and guidance given by thousands of Irish pharmacists every day.

It should not be assumed that every one of these patients has a friend or family member who can help them out when it comes to reading the label. Another important consideration to bear in mind is that most people with deficient literacy skills find that hugely embarrassing and not a subject they wish to discuss with anybody. It’s also reasonable to assume that many of those one-in-six are concentrated in a disproportionate way into certain areas. Those of you in pharmacies in those areas will be more familiar with these issues than most.

In its Guide to Becoming a Crystal Clear Pharmacy, the National Adult literacy Agency (NALA) offers advice specific to pharmacies. Some of it is common sense, such as using plain English when communicating with patients and writing on labels, and dealing sensitively with people who have literacy and numeracy needs. However, the document also refers to the pharmacy’s layout, such as whether sections are clearly named, as well as improving staff awareness of potential health literacy issues.

Perhaps you are among the more than 100 pharmacies up and down the country that were awarded the Crystal Clear Pharmacy Mark. Most of the NALA advice is already ingrained in the practising pharmacist and much of it can also be directly applied to ensuring clarity on your pharmacy’s website and online ordering system. NALA also points out that one-in-10 people have taken the wrong dose of medication because they didn’t understand the instructions, so the problem is real and significant.

The recent changes in pharmacy have meant a shift in thinking, along with, in many cases, having more things to do and less time in which to do them. Care should be taken to ensure that patients with literacy issues are not left behind in this transition.

Pat Kelly, Editor
Pat Kelly, Editor

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Editor, Irish Pharmacist, GreenCross Publishing Ltd,
Top Floor, 111 Rathmines Road Lower, Dublin 6, D06K5F6.

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