When I was trained as a physician, we were basically taught to ask, "Do you have any questions?" as we moved toward the door. Now, we know better. We can rephrase that five-word question to ask, "What questions do you have?" Encouraging questions is just one recommendation in AHRQ's new curricular modules designed for pharmacists to advance health literacy practices.
Pharmacists are on the frontlines of helping patients understand how their medications work and how to take them. In many cases, they are available by phone and in person 24/7. Studies have shown that when pharmacists partner with other clinicians to communicate with and follow up with patients with chronic diseases about their medications, patients do better. Better medication adherence and patient outcomes, in turn, can lead to fewer hospitalizations.
Every day, pharmacists face patients with low health literacy, which affects about 9 out of 10 Americans. Even highly educated people can have trouble understanding health care information—whether it is information on drug labels, medical forms, or instructions from their clinicians. The cover story in this issue of Research Activities highlights how pharmacists use AHRQ health literacy tools, including our new curricular modules for faculty, to improve communication with all their patients.
If knowledge is power, we're in a good position. Three major Federal policy initiatives address issues related to better communication and health literacy: The Affordable Care Act, the Plain Writing Act of 2010, and Healthy People 2020.
At AHRQ, we're committed to making health literacy a key element of health care improvement. We write our online and printed resources on a variety of health topics in plain language—in both English and Spanish. Our national public service advertising campaign called "Questions Are The Answer" encourages patients to ask questions of their medical team. To help clinicians, we have a variety of resources available, including a Health Literacy Toolkit with step-by-step guidance on how to assess and improve communication (http://www.ahrq.gov/qual/literacy/).
Communication and information are the major currency of what clinicians do every day. We at AHRQ are doing what we can so that no one—regardless of his or her health literacy level—gets shortchanged.
What questions do you have about health literacy? I encourage you to visit the Health Literacy and Cultural Competency page on our Web site: http://www.ahrq.gov/browse/hlitix.htm.
Carolyn Clancy, M.D.