Health literacy falling short: survey


One in five consumers report finding medicines information given by a pharmacist, doctor or nurse “hard to follow” or “confusing”

Consumers need to be supported to feel more in control of their healthcare, according to a recent report developed by the Consumers Health Forum of Australia (CHF) on behalf of NPS MedicineWise.

The report, which was on quality use of medicines and health literacy, included results of a national survey conducted from July to mid-August 2020.

Among 1,500 survey participants, approximately one in seven consumers always or often needed help when given information about medicines by their doctor, nurse or pharmacist.

One in five consumers reported always or often finding medicines information given by a pharmacist, doctor or nurse “hard to follow” or “confusing”, and a further 28% said they found such information confusing “sometimes”.

One in 10 rarely or never felt comfortable asking their doctor, pharmacist or nurse when they needed more information on medicines, while 17% only sometimes felt comfortable.

The same proportion also rarely or never felt comfortable asking the health professional to explain anything they didn’t understand.

However just over 70% of respondents said they “always” or “often” felt comfortable communicating on such matters with health professionals.

While approximately half (54%) said they could “always” or “often” easily find someone to help them understand or take medicines, a fifth said they did “sometimes” and 16% said they “rarely” or “never” did.

Researchers for the report found key vulnerable groups of people related to quality use of medicines were older people (65 years and over) as they are more like to have multimorbidities and polypharmacy; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; culturally and linguistically diverse populations; resettled refugees in Australia; and consumers with low socioeconomic status and low literacy.

“Health literacy is core to us delivering more equitable health outcomes,” said Leanne Wells, CEO of CHF.

“The report shines a light on Australians’ health literacy — people’s ability to find, understand and use quality information about medicines,” she said.

“We need to increase consumers’ capacity to manage and feel in control of their healthcare, including around medicines. This is a challenge when we know that 60% of Australians appear to lack the capacity to access, understand, appraise and use crucial information to make health-related decisions,” said Ms Wells.

“It’s really important that we strive to improve medicines literacy because we know people at higher risk of medication-related harm are people with multiple conditions, people who are taking lots of medications and people with English as a second language.”

NPS MedicineWise CEO Adj A/Prof Steve Morris said the organisation is working with CHF under a formal agreement to ensure consumers are at the centre of quality use of medicines and better health decision-making.

“As the report explains, it’s increasingly recognised that engaging consumers as partners in the development of health literacy resources, information and tools is essential to the success of these interventions,” he said.

The report recommends the development of a strategic, co-ordinated approach to identifying and addressing the health literacy, medication literacy and QUM needs of higher-risk population segments.

It also recommends further research to identify the extent to which consumers are aware of the available resources, able to distinguish and select between high-quality and poor-quality resources, and able to utilise resources in their healthcare interactions and decisions.

See the final report here

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