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How Pharma can Improve Patients’ Health Literacy

Doctors and pharmaceutical experts often forget that they speak a language of their own. A language that’s difficult for a patient to understand. Inability to understand medical conditions and treatment requirements leads to bad patient outcomes, the inability to manage chronic conditions and higher mortality rates. That’s why pharma and healthcare providers have to work together to improve the health literacy of their patients.

But what is health literacy exactly?

Despite popular belief, health literacy does not refer to literacy itself. It doesn’t measure people’s ability to read and write. Health literacy refers to patients’ ability to understand basic health information, about medical conditions, prevention and medications.

High health literacy can ensure that patients understand their conditions and procedures. Low health literacy, on the other hand,  results in poor overall health and increased risk of readmission.

Yes, health literacy is important! But it’s not always easy to achieve. Many healthcare professionals struggle to improve the literacy of their patients. But there are a few simple ways to find a common language with them. Just follow these 4 steps and you’ll be on the right track.

Use simple language

Have you ever said to your patients that they have to take certain medications to avoid “acute abdominal problems”? If you have, they probably had no idea what you meant.

So next time try to say the same thing in a different way.

Say, “you have to swallow those pills to avoid stomach problems. Problems that may last for a short time but will cause serious issues in the future.” It takes a bit more time, but this way you will ensure that patients understand what you meant and follow your instructions. Speaking of oral instructions, make sure that you are talking slowly. That way patients will hear and understand you better.

Make sure patients read the written material

Most physicians and pharma companies provide various written materials to patients. But many patients never read them. That’s why you have to make sure that patients read pamphlets and brochures you give them. There are several ways to do that.  

First, when you hand them the material, make sure it is upside down. And then watch whether they realize that and turn it the right way around. Then, upon their next visit, do a little Q&A with patients. Ask them questions about their illness that can be found only in the brochure. If patients know the answers then you can be sure that they’ve read the brochure or pamphlet you gave them.

health literacy

Use the teach-back method of communication

Teach-back is a communication method that makes patients repeat instructions in their own words. This way HCPs can ensure that patients understood everything they heard. Only when they repeat everything that’s been said to them the right way, you’ll be sure that they know how to take care of themselves. Better understanding will lead to better compliance and reduce the risk of readmission.

Use visual tools

The majority of people are visual learners. That means that they are more likely to remember visual than written info. That’s why physicians and pharma should use visual tools when interacting with patients. Images, graphics, infographics, and videos can help make your presentations easier. Remember, visual data are more memorable than oral instructions. And they are also known to reduce the time of physician office visits. Thus letting physicians do more during their day.

These are some useful tricks HCPs and pharma should use to ensure that patients understand them and their instructions. A better understanding of every medical condition will lead to better overall health literacy over time. And will prepare the patients for what’s to come.

Hope you apply these steps in your daily practice. Use them all to get maximum results. And make sure to sign up for more and continue to improve your communication with patients.