Low Health Literacy to Blame for Medication Misuse

Pharmacists should consider health literacy when counseling patients taking complex medication regimens.

New research suggests that patients with limited health literacy are more likely to self-administer medications more times a day than necessary. Health literacy in general is linked to a great deal of variability in patients’ ability to follow prescription instructions, according to the study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Led by Michael S. Wolf, PhD, MPh, of Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, researchers interviewed 464 adults aged 55 to 74 who received care at either an academic general medicine or one of 3 Chicago health centers. Patients were given a hypothetical regimen of 7 medications and asked to create a schedule based on the dosing instructions.

Just 15% of patients were able to simplify the schedule so that they were taking medication 4 times a day. Patients with limited health literacy were significantly more likely to create complex schedules that involved dosing a greater number of times per day. The average for patients with low health literacy was 8.4 times per day.

“Greater regimen complexity, based on multiple medications and/or multiple daily doses per drug, may lead to poorer adherence, which in turn will lead to worse health outcomes,” the authors wrote. They said the results underscore a need for “standardized instructions” and a “universal medication schedule” to help patients develop a routine for scheduling medications.

In the meantime, pharmacists can protect patients from preventable errors by helping them develop health literacy. The National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF) provides a library resources and guidelines for this purpose. The agency’s “Ask Me 3” strategy provides structure for patient education sessions, which focuses on 3 basic questions: “What is my main problem?” “What do I need to do?” and “Why is it important for me to do this?”

To learn more about “Ask Me 3” and Patient Safety Awareness Week (March 6-12) visit http://phrmcyt.ms/gY58vQ.

For other articles in this issue, see:

  • Opioid Painkillers Tied to Birth Defect Risk
  • Most Americans Oppose Medicare Spending Cuts