The pharmaceutical industry is responsible for communicating health information related to medications. Industry is guided by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations about what it can say and what it must say about its products. Communications from industry are designed to create demand for medications (advertisements) and educate consumers about how to take them safely (medication guides). Package inserts include technical information about medications.
Consumers receive medication information from industry, providers and pharmacies. Discrepancies among these communications can cause confusion and lead to harm. Medication instructions, medicine lists and pill bottle labels may be hard to read or understand. They require numeric literacy – the ability to compute, comprehend and act on data. Lacking a nationwide standard, prescription labels can vary by state. Consumers must rely on health (including numeric) literacy skills to determine what information is relevant when it comes to taking or administering medications safely.
Health literacy resources like the Universal Medication Schedule (UMS) and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s (AHRQs) Pharmacy Health Literacy Center are vital tools for health communicators working to make medication information easier to understand and act on.