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Improving health literacy is key to driving confidence in self care

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Improving health literacy is key to driving confidence in self care

Community pharmacy has a vital role in communicating information about medicines to patients

One thing I am passionate about as a representative of the consumer healthcare industry is ensuring people can access easily understandable and reliable information about their medicines, so they feel empowered and confident to look after their own health when appropriate.

In PAGB research, 71 per cent of people thought there should be better education around self-treatable conditions to encourage more people to self care.1 For me, this is an industry priority. That’s why PAGB is an active supporter of the Self Care Forum, a charity that helps to promote self care and improve health literacy.

Evidence from the RCGP indicates that health information is too complex for more than 60 per cent of working-age adults in England, and a recent report by the Academy of Medical Sciences has called for a review of patient information leaflets, so that people can more easily understand them.2,3

Being a highly regulated industry – and rightly so – manufacturers of medicines have a legal requirement to list any possible side effects of the medicine, and all patient information leaflets pass through extensive user-testing to ensure their readability. However, even though some people will find the information useful and easy to understand, others could feel confused and anxious about the list of possible side effects, making them less confident to self care.

The report acknowledges that good progress is being made by the regulators and industry, but suggests continued collaboration might drive further improvements in levels of patient understanding about medicines. In particular, pharmacists can help break down the barriers to self care with customers.

As pharmacists, you have the opportunity to advise customers on their medicines and help improve their health literacy at point of purchase. Asking customers if they have taken their medicine before, if they understand the dosage instructions and talking them through the leaflet in more detail all help educate those who may be less confident to self care. A customer might not understand or be aware that the medicine could make them feel nauseous or drowsy, for example.

We know that less than 10 per cent1 of people visit their pharmacist to access advice and support about over-the-counter medicines, but by equipping consumers with the knowledge they need and by working together to improve health literacy, over time people should feel more empowered and confident to self care. As a result, more people will know how to use OTC medicines safely and effectively to manage self-treatable conditions without the need for an unnecessary GP appointment, easing the burden on the NHS.

John Smith is chief executive of the Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB)

1. Survey with 5,011 UK adults, carried out by Pureprofile on behalf of the PAGB. September 2016
2. Royal College of General Practitioners. Health Literacy Report from an RCGP-led health literacy workshop, June 2014


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