Research Activities, February 2014

AHRQ health literacy tools help pharmacists identify opportunities to improve communication

Patient Safety and Quality of Care

Pharmacists serve an important role in providing health and medication information to patients, yet much of the information is presented in such a way that it is too complex for most adults. Pharmacists could improve practices by using four health literacy tools developed by AHRQ. 

One of the tools is an assessment tool used to assess a pharmacy's health literacy practices by completing an observation of the pharmacy, a survey of pharmacy staff, and patient focus groups. Other tools include a staff training guide and information on how to create automated telephone refill reminders. 

Photograph shows a consumer consulting with a pharmacist about her medication. Researchers investigated the factors related to adopting these tools and what barriers pharmacies may face in implementing them. Eight pharmacies were selected for the study. Two of the pharmacies had decided not to use the tools before the study (non-users) and 1 pharmacy decided on their own to use the tools (spontaneous user). The other 5 pharmacies (recruited users) were willing to implement the tools. The study used case study methods consisting of site visits, interviews, and a review of pharmacy documents and tool results. 

Only one pharmacy completed all four parts of the Assessment Tool. The five recruited pharmacies viewed health literacy as an important issue prior to adopting the tools. Four of the five recruited pharmacies and the spontaneous pharmacy encouraged a culture of innovation where the leaders supported improvements. Tool implementation was successful where there was a "change champion" to use it. These champions felt the tools provided valuable information and improved patient care. They found that an invitation to use the tools and ongoing support were important to adopting the tools. In addition to lack of leadership support and time, other barriers to adopting and implementing the tools included perceiving the tools as too complex with limited value, and lack of qualified staff. 

According to the researchers, if more pharmacies assessed their health literacy practices using tools like these and had guidance on how to improve health literacy practices, it could mean important progress toward achieving the goals of the National Action Plan To Improve Health Literacy.

The tools are available at The study was supported by AHRQ (Contract No. 290-06-0001). 

See "Factors affecting adoption implementation of AHRQ health literacy tools in pharmacies," by Sarah J. Shoemaker, Pharm.D., Ph.D., Leah Staub-DeLong, B.A., Melanie Wasserman, M.P.A., Ph.D., and Mark Spranca, Ph.D., in Research in Social & Administrative Pharmacy pp. 1-11, 2013.


Page last reviewed February 2014
Internet Citation: AHRQ health literacy tools help pharmacists identify opportunities to improve communication. Content last reviewed February 2014. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.