Pictograms Help Pharmacists Improve Health Literacy

It is easy for pharmacists to forget that most patients don't understand the medical terminology and jargon they use every day.

It is easy for pharmacists to forget that most patients don't understand the medical terminology and jargon they use every day.

While i

t is often difficult to overcome barriers to communication, pictograms are just one device pharmacists can employ to make a difference in a patient's care. After all,

it is pharmacists' responsibility to ensure that patients fully understand medication instructions and precautions.

Health literacy is the ability to obtain, understand, and use health information. Patients with inadequate health literacy are often seniors with cognitive impairment, those with low socioeconomic status, immigrants who speak a non-English language, and patients who cannot read or write.

Almost half of the US population reads below a basic level, contributing to a widespread inability to understand prescription labels. But

e

ven patients with average or above-average reading ability can sometimes find health information difficult to understand and retain.

Regis Vaillancourt, PharmD, the director of pharmacy at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO),

has developed a series of pictograms to help patients understand how to take their medication.

In addition to his young patients at CHEO, Dr. Vaillancourt has been working with the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) to adapt software that would allow pharmacists in Germany to produce pictograms and words in Arabic in order to help refugees with language difficulties manage their medicines.

The US Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) also has a pictogram library

of

standardized graphic images that represent various medication instructions, precautions, warnings, storage, and other information to provide to patients.

Pictograms are particularly helpful for passing on important information to patients with limited reading ability and those for whom English is a second language. In these cases, relying on the patient's family and friends to interpret health information is not optimal, as information may be unknowingly omitted, added, or incorrectly substituted.

Pharmacists can apply pictograms to enhance patient understanding, increase medication compliance, and achieve the best therapeutic outcomes.