Literacy Council focuses on health issues

Three years ago, Helen Williamson, a Literacy Council of Sheboygan County tutor, was tutoring a native-Spanish speaker who brought in her prescription bottle and asked Helen, “I’m not sure how to take this—is this right?” Helen then explained how to correctly take the prescribed medicine, as the student had misunderstood the labeling directions.

This encounter with her Literacy Council student led Williamson to join the Patient Advisory Council (PAC) last summer, a two-year initiative of Wisconsin Health Literacy called the Wisconsin Prescription Labeling Project.

Two other local Literacy Council tutors, Stacy Bender and Ashleigh Yonke, have also joined the Patient Advisory Council. As members of the PAC, they have worked on helping make prescription labels more accessible to the elderly, those with limited English, and those with limited literacy skills. Council ideas to make labels more user-friendly and understandable have included simple but effectual details such as placement of information, having the directions in a separate boxed-in area with the largest font, and having more white space on a label.

The PAC has had success having their labeling ideas accepted by the UW-Health Pharmacy Services, HAYAT, and Hometown Pharmacy. UW-Health Pharmacy Services includes fourteen locations in and around Madison, HAYAT includes eight locations around Milwaukee (including nearby Campbellsport), and Hometown Pharmacy includes 29 locations in Wisconsin. Williamson reports she has even seen Shopko Express using the PAC labeling. Helen Williamson participated in a three-person panel at the April 3–5 Health Literacy Summit in Madison, WI, and presented her personal story about the need for clear labeling to a roomful of pharmacists. Health literacy is just one of many important services the Literacy Council of Sheboygan County provides to adult students. As Williamson notes about prescription labels, “It’s amazing how much we don’t know.”

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