Drug Information Card

Patient Safety: Low Health Literacy and Medications

Reports on the issue of patient safety seem to be everwhere. Stories about wrong-site surgery or instances where patients unknowingly took their medication in a deadly combination with another are frequently featured in today's headlines. One known cause for these events is "low health literacy." A 1995 study reported that of 2,659 hospital patients, 26 percent could not read their appointment slips; 47 percent could not understand written instructions to take medicine on an empty stomach; 60 percent did not understand the standard consent form; and 81 percent of English-speaking patients age 60 or older had inadequate health literacy. To such individuals, statements like "Take this three times a day" may mean "Take three a day at once" or "Take one at 7:00 a.m., one at 10:00 a.m. and one at noon." As a result, it should come as no surprise that individuals with low health literacy are twice as likely to report their health as poor and twice as likely to be hospitalized.

Keep track of your medications with our Pocket Drug Safety Card PDF Document. The pocket drug safety card is available in all Scott & White physician offices, Day Surgery, the Emergency Department and Scott & White pharmacies and is also included in admission packets for all hospitalized patients.

To address this important issue, Scott & White, through its Quality Council, has developed a new tool: the pocket drug safety card. This is a bright yellow card designed so that it can be folded and kept in a wallet. Prepared at fifth-grade reading level, the card poses ten questions on medication use and asks for a listing of over-the-counter products that may cause side effects for prescription medications. Medication changes can be noted on the card by the patient, the patient's family or the health care provider.

One of the founders of Scott & White, Dr. Arthur C. Scott, said during the 1920's, "the most important duty of the medical staff is patient safety." The new pocket drug safety card shows that this concept is alive and well at Scott & White to this day. All patients are encouraged to obtain a copy and to carry it with them as a reference.


Williams, MV, et. al. Inadequate functional health literacy among patients at two public hospitals. JAMA; 1995; 274:1677-82.

Baker, DW et. al. The relationship of patient reading ability to self-reported health and the use of heatlh services. AM J Public Health, 1997; 87:1027-30.

Baker, DW et. al. Patient reading ability and use of health care services. J. Gen Int Med. 1999 In Press.

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