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How to Engage Patients with Low 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. More than 77 million adults in the United States possess limited health literacy skills and will likely encounter difficulties interpreting and acting upon health information. Our patients come to us with various levels of education or literacy, and they may prefer to speak a different language, and these issues can become barriers for them to understand health information. As researchers realized this was an issue, they began to talk about health literacy which is defined as the capacity to: Obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services. And to make appropriate health care decisions or act on health information. And lastly, the ability to access or navigate the health care system, which we all know is extremely complicated. Any patient who does not read or write well, has trouble communicating or understanding verbal communications about health, speaks a different language, or has trouble understanding or using numbers could have trouble with these areas. It is essential for health systems and health care professionals to develop a comprehensive response to the health literacy challenge and help patients and families better understand and act for the good of their or a loved one's health.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this activity, the participant should be able to:

  • Recognize the extent of low health literacy in the US
  • Identify the warning signs that our patients may have low health literacy
  • Develop strategies to improve patient understanding
  • Demonstrate effective health literacy practices using specific examples


Donna Horn, MS, RPh, DPh
Ms. Horn received a BS in Pharmacy from MCPHS University and a Master’s degree in Patient Safety and Medication Risk Management from the University of Florida College of Pharmacy Pharmaceutical Outcomes and Policy program. She has more than 25 years of experience in the retail/chain community pharmacy practice setting, as the Privacy Officer and Manager of Regulatory Affairs for Brooks/ Eckerd Pharmacy, and as a pharmacist and Regional Pharmacy Manager for OSCO Drug. Donna directed ISMP’s patient safety activities in community/ambulatory practice. She has been involved in conducting numerous on-site safety consults for national health care organizations and health care systems, as well as, writing recommendations for safety improvements for these organizations. Prior to joining ISMP, she served as President and Chairman of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) where her focus was in patient safety, primarily on reducing medication errors in community pharmacy. Ms. Horn also served 11 years on the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Pharmacy as both a member and as President. Most recently, Ms. Horn was elected as Board Director and subsequently elected as the President of the American Society for Pharmacy Law. In her role at MCPHS, she provides direct student instruction focused on the practice-based aspects of community pharmacy.


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Release Date: April 19, 2019
Expiration Date: April 10, 2021
Contact Hours: 1.0
Universal Activity Number: 0026-0000-19-003-H05-P
ACPE Topic Designator: Patient Safety

Registration Fee: This module is provided free of charge