September 19, 2018 | ° F

Council aims to promote health literacy

Pharmacy Governing Council

The University’s Pharmacy Governing Council explored the implications of health literacy and the need to advocate not only patients, but also legislators during their second meeting of the spring semester.

University alumnae Alexandra Cruz and Heather Fernandez from Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield met with the council to bring their field expertise to students Tuesday at the Busch Campus Center, discussing the importance of health literacy in pharmacy.

“Basically, health literacy is a patient’s ability to understand their health care and use it to make decisions,” Cruz said.

Cruz presented a video produced by the American Medical Association, which highlighted the problems with achieving health literacy. In particular, the video presented the issue with doctor-patient communications and what information is lost when using advanced medical terminology.

Most patients process science literature at an eighth-grade level, while most health care information is communicated at a college level, according to the video.

Because of this, the information physicians give to their patients is often misinterpreted, according to the video.

For example, one man in the video mistook his doctor’s diagnosis of hypertension to mean he was extremely energetic.

Cruz said it is key for pharmacists to clearly explain to patients what exactly is going on with their health care.

“A lot of patients don’t understand,” she said. “We’re the pharmacists that see patients on a weekly basis, so we need to make sure they know the right information.

Fernandez spoke about the lack of patient comprehension, which is evident when the patients were asked about their health. She also spoke about how this misunderstanding could affect what they know about their medication.

“Sometimes the patients don’t want to open up and say they don’t understand their conditions,” she said. “Sometimes it hasn’t been properly explained to them, but they still need to understand the implications of it. Some patients see how their blood pressure is, and they’ll say something like, ‘Around 140, so not too bad.’”

Fernandez said making treatment understandable to patients is an important part of being a pharmacist.

Joseph Kim, the Pharmacy Governing Council president, compared patients’ lack of health literacy to an end-user license agreement on computer programs like iTunes.

“How many of you actually read those? I know I never have and never will,” he said. “It’s the same thing for patients. They don’t want to read something that isn’t written in their language.”

Kim, an Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy graduate student, said though lack of health literacy is a big problem, it comes with a rather simple solution.

“It’s a big problem that people are unaware of,” he said. “It can be solved by spreading awareness and putting information in terms that the patients can understand.”

The council held their annual, month-long awareness event in October to promote the pharmacy profession and bring attention to problems like health illiteracy that occur in the field of pharmacy.

“We advocate for new things that any pharmacy student can do, such as counseling,” Kim said. “We also influence policy on the legislative level.”

During the advocacy month, the council oversaw a letter-writing campaign to public officials to promote health literacy, he said.

Kim said he has a desire to see the event grow into more than a one-month event.

“This is something that is really a terrific thing to let other schools know about,” he said.

At the end of the meeting, pharmacy students received certificates for participating in the program.

The Pharmacy Governing Council’s focus is to foster a good environment for pharmacy students to succeed in, Kim said.

“We try to do our best to enrich the pharmacy experience at Rutgers,” he said. “Any event that effects multiple years of pharmacy students comes to our attention.”

By Adam Uzialko

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