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New AHRQ tools help pharmacies better serve patients with limited health literacy

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has developed two new tools to help pharmacies provide better quality services to people with limited health literacy. The tools are titled, Is Our Pharmacy Meeting Patients' Needs? A Pharmacy Health Literacy Assessment Tool User's Guide and Strategies to Improve Communication between Pharmacy Staff and Patients: A Training Program for Pharmacy Staff.

Studies have found that people with limited health literacy are 12 to 18 times more likely to be unable to identify their own medications and distinguish them from one another than people who are more health literate. They also have difficulty understanding simple instructions, such as taking a medication every 6 hours or how their medications work. People with limited health literacy also are less likely to understand potential side effects and more likely to misinterpret drug warning labels.

The pharmacy assessment tool can help raise pharmacy staff awareness of health literacy issues, detect barriers that may prevent individuals with limited literacy skills from using and understanding health information provided by a pharmacy, and may help identify opportunities for improving services. This tool includes a pharmacy assessment tour to be completed by trained, objective auditors; a survey to be completed by pharmacy staff; and a guide for focus groups with pharmacy patients. The three parts are complementary and are designed to form a comprehensive assessment.

The training program for pharmacy staff includes the use of explanatory slides and small group breakout discussions. Participants role play using handouts before concluding with a question-and-answer session.

More than a third of adult Americans have levels of health literacy that are below what is required to understand typical medication information, according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy. This problem is more acute for certain groups, including the elderly, minorities, immigrants, and the poor.

AHRQ's 2006 National Healthcare Disparities Report (http://www.ahrq.gov/qual/nhdr06/nhdr06.htm) found that these same groups tend to have poorer health care, suggesting that limited health literacy may be at least partially responsible for the disparities.

The tools resulted from a study that was cofunded by AHRQ and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and were developed under contract by Emory University.

Is Our Pharmacy Meeting Patients' Needs? A Pharmacy Health Literacy Assessment Tool User's Guide (AHRQ Publication No. 07-0051) can be found online at http://www.ahrq.gov/qual/pharmlit/.

Strategies to Improve Communication between Pharmacy Staff and Patients: A Training Program for Pharmacy Staff (AHRQ Publication No. 07(08)-0051-1-EF) is available online at http://www.ahrq.gov/qual/pharmlit/pharmtrain.htm.

Print copies of both publications are also available from the AHRQ Publications Clearinghouse.

For more information about AHRQ's health literacy activities, go to http://www.ahrq.gov/browse/hlitix.htm.

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