Patient Med education

Understanding Health Literacy

Health literacy is the “degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.” In the US, only 12% of the population are considered to have a proficient health literacy.  Per the CDC, patients with low health literacy can require more emergency care, have a higher frequency of hospital stays, and are less likely to comply with treatment plans which can result in higher mortality rates.

Health Literacy




Our focus in this article is around the understanding of medical instructions and more specifically medication administration. Did you know more than 1 in 2 adults cannot read an Rx label on a pill bottle?

For patients it’s crucial to understand what is needed daily to recover from a procedure, to maintain chronic disease, or to prevent progression of disease.  Medications are foundational to most conditions, and should be approached with consideration for the ‘Rights’ of medication administration:

  • Right Med
  • Right Time
  • Right Dose
  • Right Manner

Following these guidelines, not only optimizes efficacy and wellness, but also prevents unnecessary challenges from taking the meds incorrectly. However, health literacy isn’t only of concern for patients. Family caregivers, clinicians, and pharmacists can all benefit from improved patient health literacy.

For family caregivers, an AARP report classified medication management as an instrumental ADL (IADL) vs an ADL (Activity of Daily Living) with 67% of surveyed caregivers reporting that they would use personalized care guidance and reminders from a technology device to help care for their loved one, 77.2% for tracking medication adherence, and 79% for medication refills and pickups. Improving health literacy for caregivers and their patients ultimately means medications that are given at the right time and in the right doses, which can improve patient outcomes and caregiver quality of life.

For Clinicians, caring for patients is why they got into the profession, but it can be challenging to ensure that patients follow treatment plans correctly. Improving patient health literacy allows patients to take a more active role in their recovery process, improves their treatment plan compliance, and reduces the risk of adverse events.  Empowering patients with the tools and resources they need to understand their treatment plan means that they can follow the guidelines from their clinicians, and reduce the chances that they will end up back in the doctor’s office, or even in the ER.

From a hospital perspective, health literacy in patients and family caregivers is important to prevent potential readmission and higher quality ratings and patient satisfaction ratings such as HCAHPS.

For pharmacists, improved patient health literacy means that patients are more likely to take their medications correctly and on time. Not only does this mean better outcomes and less visits and calls to the pharmacy for support, but it can improve the likelihood that a patient has a positive experience with their medications — meaning better metrics for pharmacists and drug manufacturers.

This is where digital tools like can help. takes a medication simplification approach to enabling self-care.  Patients have enough to worry about as is; and if we can remove the confusion about which meds to take, when, and how to take them, we can offer patients and their care teams a more fulfilling experience.

Yes there is Dr. Google, or the leaflet from pharmacy, but with generic resources instead of personalized guidance, the patient is still isolated at home, unsure about how to follow their treatment plan effectively. Lori McClean (insert title VARUN) adds that “Patients’ inability to understand their medication instructions causes unnecessary hospitalizations, nursing home admissions, and significantly increased healthcare costs.”

The platform includes clinically intelligent automation, and follows cognitive science principles to inform and educate patients. This way, minimal but critical information is presented to the patient in a simple to understand manner. The clinical intelligence behind the scenes gives them peace of mind and confidence knowing the medications are safe and effective, as clinicians can configure and sign-off on the daily care routine. Patients can have easier access to educational resources and tools, but also trusted clinicians within the mobile app. This shared decision making is powerful and essential to better health literacy.

US Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin said it best, “As clinicians, what we say does not matter unless our patients are able to understand the information we give them well enough to use it to make good health-care decisions. Otherwise, we didn’t reach them, and that is the same as if we didn’t treat them.”