Four out of ten Australians have trouble understanding information about their medicines

More than 4 out of 10 adults in Australia are not able to read and understand important information about their medicines. Jo Medlin, President of the Council for Adult Literacy emphasised the importance of considering health literacy in her keynote presentation at today’s National Medicine Symposium. She talked about the high levels of low adult literacy in Australia and what that means for how people use their medicines.

The Australian Core Skills Framework measures literacy in 5 levels. Over 4 out of 10 adults have a literacy level of 2 or lower which means they are not able to read many everyday texts. Over 8 out of 10 adults in Australia have a literacy level of 3 or lower, and will have difficulty understanding medical terms and more complex medicine instructions.

“Just think of all of the things you have read since you got up this morning,” said Jo Medlin.

“People who have difficulties reading are not able to access the same information as those that can. This can impact people’s health if they are not able to take medicines properly, or understand what they need to do to stay well.”

“Low literacy can have many causes. It is important to remember that it is not the person’s fault. It could be due to schooling gaps, an undetected physical issue like seeing or hearing difficulties, or behavioural issues.

“The stigma around difficulties reading mean that it is hard for people to seek help, just making the problem worse and long-lasting.

“This is why it is so important how we talk about low literacy. We shouldn’t talk about a person being illiterate or inumerate. We should say they have unmet literacy needs or have literacy or numeracy gaps.

Medlin showed examples of text we see in everyday life and gave tips on how to make these simpler and easier to understand. Using plain language, better layout and more images can help.

Improving workplace literacy can help. It can lead to fewer errors and misunderstanding which is particularly important when talking about health.

The ABC of health literacy is the theme of the 2022 National Medicines Symposium (NMS) taking place today. The fully virtual event hosted by NPS MedicineWise is expanding on what health literacy is, why it is important, and what can be done to improve it, especially where the need is greatest.

The online event – the third time the National Medicines Symposium has been hosted as a virtual event, supporting online discussion between delegates. The conversation also continued on social media with the hashtag #NMS2022.

 

Media contact

Bernadette Withers: 0419 618 365 or [email protected]