Health literacy initiatives to empower patients and improve medication adherence


Poor adherence to medication is a major public health concern and is recognised as a barrier to safe and cost-effective use of medicines and services. A key factor implicated in poor adherence is low health literacy. The pharmacist plays a central role in the provision of information to patients regarding their medicines. However pharmacists and other healthcare professionals are often unaware of low health literacy in patients. In addition, there are very few support tools to aid pharmacists in providing appropriate information to these patients.

This project aims to develop health literacy support services for pharmacists. The failure to adhere to medication could lead to the individual not taking the prescribed drug, taking it at the wrong time or missing doses. Our project is examining the format and content of current prescription medicine labeling and comparing it to patient-centred labeling (PCL). The PCL is linked to the concept of a Universal Medication Schedule, which aims to standardize prescription instructions and provide explicit information in plain language to support patients in correctly dosing their medicine over the course of a day.

Current Status

Exploratory studies have been conducted in these areas and have been widely published. These studies are now ready to be scaled up to include larger numbers. In particular we are exploring IT solutions to health literacy issues.



Dr Laura Sahm;

Dr Suzanne McCarthy;





Collaborators in these projects include:

  • Northwestern University, Chicago;
  • industry collaboration with Merck Sharpe and Dohme;
  • patient representative group the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA);
  • the Irish Pharmacy Union.

Future Plans

Over the next 6-12 months, we will train of pharmacists and pharmacy undergraduate students in health literacy support services. Negotiations will be held with pharmacy IT support services to plan the implementation of formats for PCL. We are members of COLLAGE and have joined the EIP AHA’s A1 Specific Action Group.


To date, the work conducted has been self-funded. We are currently seeking opportunities for additional funding for the PCL project.