Health literacy is not just reading and writing

By Nicola Gray and Diarmuid Coughlan

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It is suggested that one in 10 patients who walk into a pharmacy or on to a ward will not fully understand the instructions or advice that they receive from staff.

Nicola Gray and Diarmuid Coughlan explain concepts in health literacy and how pharmacy staff can help ensure good medicines use


What does the term “health literacy” conjure up in your mind? Literacy, no doubt, suggests the ability to read and write. Add health, and it seems straightforward: the ability to read and write in a health context.

The concept of health literacy certainly includes an individual’s capacity to access, understand and use written health information but, over the past 20 years, it has widened into something much more interesting and relevant to pharmacy practice.

Before 2000, the research into health literacy concentrated on functional aspects — the reading and writing skills of people who had long-term health problems (and who were usually in hospital).

In the US, there was a burst of development of tools for testing health literacy, the two most well-known being Rapid estimate of adult literacy in medicine (REALM) and Test of functional health literacy in adults (TOFHLA).


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Nicola Gray, PhD, MRPharmS, is lecturer in pharmacy practice at the University of Nottingham, and Diarmuid Coughlan, MPharm, MRPharmS, is community and research pharmacist, University of York

Citation: The Salvadore URI: 10979437

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