43 percent of working-age adults will struggle to understand instructions to calculate a childhood paracetamol dose. Widespread low health literacy is a key reason why. Patient support consultancy Anatomy Health interviewed Blythe Robertson, Policy Manager for the Scottish Government to discuss how tackling health literacy has been at the core of NHS Scotland’s work to better serve patients, and what pharma can do to help create a more ‘health literate’ healthcare system and services
Excerpts from the interview:
How is health literacy being tackled within NHS Scotland?
The Scottish Government has published two action plans now. The first focussed on primarily on shining a light on health literacy and raising it as an issue with people in the healthcare system, and promoting tools and techniques to help respond to the health literacy challenge such as Teach Back.
We also built the Health Literacy Place online platform, which brings together the evidence and case studies on health literacy, including some ‘demonstrator’ work by NHS Tayside which tackled some specific health literacy issues to do with people coming into and leaving the healthcare system, such as improving materials around preparing for appointments.
When we were concluding the demonstrator work in Tayside, we started thinking of a new action plan to build on what we’d learnt. This was published in November 2017. In going back to various stakeholders and constituent groups, we broadened out the discussion regarding our new context both in terms of integrated world health and social care but also the areas where people are seeking health information. For example, library services, where 40 million people interact – more than those who go to see Scottish premiership football or go to the cinema combined!
We know that a quarter of libraries are providing health information – that’s a huge number of people going into the wider system (i.e. not the health and care system) – and lots of the traditional target populations for public health interventions: little kids, mothers and fathers of little kids, homeless people, etc. In the spirit of going to where people are, there’s a huge emerging role of library services.
We have four action areas in the plan:
- Actively sharing what we’ve already learnt from our work to ensure the assets and the spirit of the first plan are continued
- Embed what we’ve learnt in particular parts of the healthcare system. So if we have good evidence for interventions in the hospital setting, how do we translate them into GP practices?
- Develop more health literate responsive organisations. Again, taking away from this patient deficit idea and working out what a ‘health literate’ organisation looks like. That’s a big piece of work, and we’re keen to promote this idea of health literate organisations
- Getting health literacy out of existence by simply designing health services in ways that are more responsive to people’s abilities. This includes lots of different facets, from information design to physical design of spaces.
What role does the pharmaceutical industry have in helping to tackle and respond to health literacy?
Fundamentally, if you want people to adhere to their medicines regimes and feel more empowered to lead healthy lifestyles, you need to have information that is aligned with and responsive to their needs.
Simply improving information about medicines that people are taking is fundamental. We had a great ‘terrible’ example of a colleague who was given a prescription with packaging design that showed two tablets. She took the picture to mean that the dosage was two tablets, when in fact it was one, and taking two over the period she was taking the medicine could have been very dangerous.
That’s a classic example of the road to hell being paved with good intentions – you can see the thought process of having a picture of the tablets, and being able to see it from all angles, but that person could have ended up in a very sorry state if she hadn’t worked out the correct dose.
I’ve presented to pharma before, and the reaction was great – many came saying that they had a responsibility to make patient information better. People recognise that they need to do things better as it can help people take their product appropriately. The role of clear information, whether just the leaflet that comes with the box, or the way that medicines are explained to patients by the practitioner, is fundamental to good health.
This isn’t a Scottish issue, or a UK issue, but a global level issue. We need to work collaboratively at as big a scale as we can.
A pharma organisation can and should aim to be a health literate organisation. Organisations that have a role to play in maintaining good health have to embrace these principles. The pharma industry is fundamental to that. I’m certainly not saying particular organisations are inherently bad at this – there’s lots of good out there – there’s just this sense of how we work together and improve together, and address weaknesses across the system when we can.
The opinions offered in this interview are Blythe Robertson’s own. To find out more information on health literacy please visit the Health Literacy Place website or contact Jamie Begbie, senior policy officer, healthcare quality and improvement, Scottish Government, on firstname.lastname@example.org. Interview carried out by Oliver Childs, health information director of patient support consultancy Anatomy Health.
You can read the full interview here: http://www.pharmatimes.com/web_exclusives/improving_health_outcomes_by_tackling_health_literacy_nhs_scotland_focus_1234662