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Health Literacy Topics Strengthen Curriculum

Published on 01 December 2012

An innovative and exciting initiative to increase health literacy is spreading throughout the curriculum at St. Louis College of Pharmacy. Two grants from the Missouri Foundation for Health are facilitating the College in strengthening the curriculum with health literacy topics.

“We have seen improvement in students’ abilities,” says Tricia Berry, Pharm.D., director of experiential programs and assistant dean. “We’ve also surveyed the patients who received counseling from our students and have gotten really nice feedback in terms of the impact on the patient’s medication regimen.”

The survey showed that nearly all patients who consulted with a student pharmacist say they now feel more confident about asking questions of their health professionals, and nearly as many patients say they’re more likely to take medicine as prescribed. And according to Berry, one particular patient reported saving $100 a month on medication costs after consulting with a student. “It comes down to students sitting down and talking to patients about the medications and how to navigate aspects of the health care system,” she says. “Some patients didn’t know that there were less expensive alternatives, and they also didn’t know how to get them.”

Since the founding of the health literacy movement more than three decades ago, it has grown to include many aspects of health care such as accessing information and care. The target for health literacy has also grown to include all patients, not just those from underserved communities.

“Patients’ skills are an important component of health literacy,” Berry says. “Health care professionals’ skills are equally important though. Pharmacists need to communicate in ways that make the information provided understandable and actionable.”

The programs sponsored by the grants are targeted toward fifth- and sixth-year students, but this health literacy emphasis has grown quickly. “I am excited that additional faculty members are increasingly interested in health literacy,” Berry adds. “It is now being integrated into classes beyond the original classes targeted for the grant project.” For example, second-year students are learning about health literacy in their Introduction to Pharmacy Practice class. Fourth-year students have a health literacy component in two classes, including Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experiences in the Community Pharmacy.

The first grant, from 2009 until 2011, focused on developing students’ abilities to communicate with patients in various settings. The second grant, from 2011 through 2013, focuses on improving patients’ ability to manage their medications through comprehensive medication reviews. “We are teaching students to use plain language and to exhibit empathy, develop shared goals, and find reasonable starting points to move in the right direction,” Berry notes. “We are focusing on much more than the words students use when talking with patients about their health.”

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