Wednesday, November 14, 2012

How promoting health literacy can help pharmaceutical companies to improve patient compliance

A major problem for patients with low literacy is managing their medications. Many people, especially the elderly, take multiple medications, in varying doses, and at different times during the day. These medicines often have side effects, and some can cause complications by interacting with each other.
Pharmaceutical companies are required by law to provide patients with medication information in the package. These leaflets are supposed to help patients take their medications properly. However, most leaflets have the following problems:
•    Small text, crammed together
•    Poorly printed, small, hard-to-decipher warning labels symbols
•    Unclear, non-standardised instructions
•    Complex language that can be hard to understand
I wonder how many patients even bother to read these leaflets, leave alone understanding what they read.

The information doesn’t seem to be designed with the patient in mind at all. It appears that pharmaceutical companies print leaflets just to comply with the law and to protect themselves from lawsuits should the patient suffer from a complication as a result of the drug. Not only does this represent a missed opportunity to teach patients; unintelligible leaflets are actually a potentially grave risk to the health of patients, who are often clueless about the side effects and complications of the medicines they are taking because the leaflets are unreadable.

There are some great examples of well-designed patient information leaflets @ These serve as a very good model for how pharmaceutical companies can teach patients with poor literacy the information they need to know about their medicines. The pharmaceutical industry needs to adopt the motto: “Educate before you medicate!”

Fortunately, things are changing for the better. European law now states:

“The package leaflet must be written and designed to be clear and understandable, enabling users to act appropriately, when necessary with the help of health professionals.” (Title V of Council Directive 2001/83/EC (as amended) Article 63(2).)

The UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has also issued guidelines to help improve these package inserts:

•    Use plain language, simple punctuation, short paragraphs, and bullet points
•    Use an easy-to-read font
•    Use headings and colour to help patients navigate the text
•    Consider the use of simple, easy to understand symbols and pictographs

The full guidelines can be accessed @:

HELP is organizing a conference on “ Putting Patients First Through Health Literacy  “. This will be on Sunday, 2nd December’12 at Nehru Center at 10.30a.m. to 1.p.m.  The website is

The conference will be followed by a health literacy workshop in the afternoon. Helen Osborne, President, Health Literacy, a world renowned  Consultant from US , will be delivering the keynote and conducting the workshop.  Her website is at

At this time, we will be releasing the book, Deciphering Medical Gobbledygook: Promoting Health Literacy to Put Patients First , authored by Dr Aniruddha Malpani and Juliette Siegfried. This is a section from that book

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