Low health literacy: A prescription for patient errors

New research featured at ACP Foundation's Health Literacy Conference

PHILADELPHIA, November 20, 2006 -- If your medicine cabinet is full of prescription medications and you can't explain why you take them or are confused about how much or how often you should take them, you are among the 90 million Americans about half of the adult population that suffer from low health literacy.

Low health literacy is the degree to which individuals can obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services they need to make appropriate health decisions.

As part of their commitment to addressing the issue of low health literacy through evidence-based solutions, the American College of Physicians Foundation (ACPF) and the Institute of Medicine bring together leading researchers and other stakeholders from around the country at the Fifth Annual National Health Communication Conference. "Moving Toward Real Solutions: Advances to Address Low Health Literacy" takes place November 29 at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC.

"The conference provides an opportunity for attendees from an array of national organizations, including medicine, industry, pharmaceuticals, media, insurance, patient advocacy, and government to learn about the growing problem of low health literacy and the innovative solutions that can be implemented in various locales and settings," says Harold J. Fallon, MD, MACP; Chair, ACPF Conference Committee; former Home Secretary, Institute of Medicine; and Chair Emeritus, ACP Board of Regents.

Munsey S. Wheby, MD, MACP; ACP President Emeritus, and Chair, ACP Foundation, adds: "Understanding medicine's peculiar terminology can be difficult for even the most educated laypeople. It can be nearly impossible for the millions who have difficulty reading, aren't fluent in English, or have age-related vision or cognitive problems."

Highlights of the conference include:

  • Health literacy expert and chairperson of the ACP Foundation's Patient-Centered Health Literacy Advisory Board Terry C. Davis, PhD, unveiling the results of a new study on the relationship between literacy and understanding of container and auxiliary labels for prescription medications. The study, "To Err is Truly Human: Literacy and Misunderstanding of Prescription Drug Labels," is being released online to the public by Annals of Internal Medicine on November 29 before its print publication on December 19.

  • Charles Ganley, MD, Director, Division of Over the Counter Products, Food and Drug Administration, discussing the Drug Facts labeling rule that mandates specific labeling content and format on OTC drug products and a brief review of studies used to evaluate consumer comprehension.

  • William Shrank, MD, MSHS, Instructor, Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics, Harvard University School of Medicine, discussing the ACP Foundation's Prescription Bottle Labeling Project, a two year project that is evaluating the evidence about how to improve prescription drug labels. Dr. Shrank and colleagues have communicated with key stakeholders to assess the problems with prescription labels and the best way to implement change.

For a complete list of speakers and topics, visit http://foundation.acponline.org.

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The American College of Physicians (www.acponline.org) is the largest medical specialty organization and the second-largest physician group in the United States. ACP members include 120,000 internal medicine physicians (internists), related subspecialists, and medical students. Internists specialize in the prevention, detection, and treatment of illness in adults.


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