A new report recommends all pharmacists are offered training to ensure people understand why they are being given medicines, how to take them, and their risks and benefits.
The report on health literacy and medication safety evaluates a project undertaken in two community pharmacies, focusing on pharmacists and how they communicate with consumers. It was undertaken for the Health Quality & Safety Commission (the Commission) by Workbase and Malatest International.
Commission Medication Safety Specialist Nirasha Parsotam says difficulty understanding and interpreting health information is common and can have a real impact on wellbeing.
“Research shows people who have a lower understanding of health information and services are less likely to use prevention services such as screening, more likely to be hospitalised because of a chronic condition and more likely to use emergency services.”
She says people are more likely to take prescribed medicine appropriately if they are actively involved in their health care.
“This includes understanding why a particular course of treatment has been recommended and what its benefits and risks are. Consumers need to know more about how pharmacists can help them understand their medicines and be encouraged to ask questions.
“Health professionals have specialist knowledge – which may be very technical, complex and have its own jargon – but it is important this knowledge is put into plain language when it is communicated.”
Nirasha Parsotam says pharmacy staff taking part in the project were surprised at how much they learnt through the training.
Project consumer advisor Gary Sutcliffe supports the broadening of training to include all pharmacists and says it will be important for the training to include patients and consumers.
“Pharmacists need to hear first-hand the experiences of people who were not given appropriate information or who did not get the opportunity to ask their doctor questions. This will add a ‘real life’ factor, which is much more powerful than just being told about consumers’ concerns.”
The project was undertaken in two pharmacies, in New Plymouth and Auckland, that differed in their size and consumer base. It ran from mid-March 2013 to mid-June 2013.
Pharmacists undertook training about health literacy and used a set of tools to help ensure consumers understood information they were given. The pharmacists were monitored on their interactions with over 400 consumers who picked up scripts from their pharmacy over a three-month period.
The Commission is continuing to work with the Pharmaceutical Society and the Pharmacy Guild to develop future health literacy training to support pharmacists.
 Health literacy is defined as the degree to which people have the ability to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.