Exploring health literacy competencies in community pharmacy

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Health literacy is the ability to obtain, interpret and use health information. Low rates of health literacy in Australia have been suggested, but no validated measure exists.


To explore health literacy competencies in a sample of community pharmacy consumers.


Structured interviews were undertaken by a team of researchers during August, 2009. The instrument was derived from available literature, measuring aspects of functional, interactive and critical health literacy regarding use of medicines.

Setting and participants

Twelve community pharmacies in the Brisbane region, Australia.


Six hundred and forty-seven consumers participated; 64% were women. A wide distribution of ages was evident. English was the first language of 89% of respondents. More than half of the sample (55%), predominantly aged 26–45 years, was tertiary educated. While 87% of respondents recognized a sample prescription, 20% could not readily match the prescription to a labelled medicine box. Eighty-two percentage of respondents interpreted ‘three times a day’ appropriately, but interpretation of a standard ancillary label was highly variable. Advanced age, less formal education, non-English-speaking background and male gender were independently related to lower performance in some variables.


This health literacy measure applied comprehension and numeracy skills required of adults receiving prescription medications. While the majority of consumers adequately performed these tasks, some behaviours and responses were of sufficient concern to propose additional verbal and written information interventions by pharmacy staff.


This research provides insight into issues that may affect consumers' appropriate use of medicines and self-efficacy. Initiatives to improve public health literacy are warranted.

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