Clear Communication Must be Part of the Care… and the Cure

We are committed to improving health literacy as part of our mission to improve human health.

by Laurie Myers
director of Global Health Literacy, Merck

Since 1891, Merck has invented for life by pushing the boundaries of science with the hope and expectation that advancing scientific knowledge will lead to major advances in health.

I believe one way to improve global healthcare is to make medical and health information as clear as possible for patients around the world.

Arming patients with the knowledge and skills to make informed health decisions can help us reach our goal of improving public health. These skills are called health literacy—the ability to access, understand, appraise and apply health information.

Health literacy is:

  1. A stronger predictor of a person’s health than age, income, employment status, education level and race.
  2. Not the same as literacy—even people with advanced education and reading skills can face health literacy challenges. Only 12 percent of Americans have a proficient level of health literacy. Every one of us can think of a time when we didn’t understand what a doctor said, maybe because we were sick or overwhelmed with emotion.
  3. Simple changes make a big difference. Using plain language and clear formatting such as bullets and increased white space can shift the odds in favor of our patients.

As one of only two pharmaceutical companies that have a dedicated resource for health literacy, we are working hard to improve our patient communications.

We are working on a number of projects across divisions, around the world, including:

  • Improving our informed consent documents and diversity in clinical trials
  • Developing packaging that helps patients better understand how to take their medicines
  • Partnering with academia to develop and test health-literate patient labeling (we have had five health-literate patient labels approved, an important achievement for patients and, we believe, a model for the industry and the FDA)
  • Sharing best practices with other pharmaceutical companies and regulatory authorities around the world

There is still a great deal of work to be done, but we have made tremendous progress already.

Simplifying information helps to increase the odds that people taking our medicines know how and when to take them, and that they are able to recognize and report potential side effects. When patients are armed with this knowledge, we truly optimize the benefits of our medical innovation.

We are making great strides as a company and an industry to help a person’s ability to better understand, act on, and use health information. Success depends on our employees’ passion for and support of health literacy.

Almost twenty years ago, I chose to come to Merck because of the company’s legacy of putting patients first. This work builds upon that tradition, with health literacy champions in many parts of the world innovating every day

If you're intrigued by what we are doing as a company in this space (and I hope you are), I invite you to read more.