Health literacy, a concept that underwent significant discussion and scrutiny in the last decade, remains a key consideration when health care providers communicate with patients and their caregivers. A number of organizations have weighed in on assessing and managing differences in health literacy, notably the American College of Physicians, the American Medical Association, and the Institute of Medicine. They have all contributed in different ways, but all with a focus on the same goal; improving the way we communicate with patients, including prescription drug labeling.

The United States Pharmacopeia participated in the discussion by convening an expert committee in 2008 to address limitations of prescription drug labels. In 2013, Chapter 17 of the USP was published that included the recommendations of that committee. Notable revisions include a patient-centered approach to prescription labels, including standardized language and appearance, explicit instructions, improved readability, the purpose of the medication, limited auxiliary information, and provisions, where needed, for patients with limited English proficiency.

The USP recommendations were discussed as part of a series of panels on Health Literacy and Medications at a workshop convened by the Institute of Medicine in 2014 to commemorate the 2004 publication of “Health Literacy: A Prescription to End Confusion.”The 2014 workshop featured invited presentations and discussions on progress in the field of health literacy as it pertains to medications, the use and delivery of health care, education, technology, needed research, disparities. Last month, the IOM published a report of that workshop called “Health Literacy: Past, Present, and Future,” which concludes a discussion on future directions by noting the need to address health literacy from a systems perspective.