Health Literacy Improves Safety in Self-Medication

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In recent years, self-medication has been advocated as a means to reduce the burden on healthcare systems and cut down medical costs. In 2017, Japan established a self-medication tax system to encourage the switch of drugs from prescription to over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines self-medication as the use of medicines by individuals to treat self-recognized illnesses or symptoms.

While promoting self-medication offers potential benefits, it also raises concerns about the risks associated with inappropriate use, such as drug interactions and adverse effects. To address these concerns, the key lies in promoting the rational use of medicines. Health literacy, the ability to understand and apply health-related information, plays a vital role in ensuring safe and responsible self-medication. 

To assess the relationship between health literacy and comprehension of OTC drug package inserts, a cross-sectional study was conducted in the Kanto region of Japan from January to February 2020. The study targeted adults aged 20 years or older who purchased OTC medicines. Health literacy was measured using the 14-item Health Literacy Scale for Japanese adults (Japanese version of HLS-14), while comprehension of medication package inserts was evaluated through interviews (label comprehension study [LCS] form).

The association between health literacy and the correct response rate in the LCS, as well as the attitude toward reporting adverse drug events (ADEs), were analyzed using multiple linear regression and logistic regression analyses, respectively. The study was published in the Journal of Pharmaceutical Policy and Practice. 

The findings of the study revealed a positive correlation between health literacy and comprehension of package inserts. Participants with higher health literacy were more likely to have a better understanding of the information provided in OTC drug package inserts. This indicates that individuals with greater health knowledge are better equipped to interpret and apply the instructions and warnings present in the package inserts. 

Furthermore, the study found that higher health literacy was associated with appropriate behavior when encountering adverse drug reactions. Participants with higher health literacy were more inclined to seek professional medical advice when experiencing adverse effects from OTC drugs. This highlights the significance of health literacy in guiding responsible self-medication practices and ensuring patient safety. 

The promotion of self-medication as a policy measure aims to reduce unnecessary medical consultations and, subsequently, healthcare expenditure. However, the risks and hazards associated with improper self-medication cannot be overlooked. The study underscores the importance of enhancing health literacy among OTC drug consumers to address these challenges. 

Pharmacists and registered sellers play a crucial role in the distribution of accurate and appropriate information to consumers. By actively engaging with patients and educating them about OTC drugs, potential risks, and proper usage, healthcare professionals can contribute to improving health literacy and fostering rational self-medication practices. 

The study highlights the relationship between health literacy, comprehension of OTC drug package inserts, and responsible self-medication behavior. Higher health literacy among OTC drug consumers was associated with a better understanding of package inserts and a greater tendency to seek professional help when adverse drug reactions occur. This reinforces the importance of health literacy in promoting safe and effective self-medication practices. 

To promote rational self-medication, it is essential for healthcare systems to prioritize health literacy initiatives, ensuring that consumers are well-informed about OTC drugs and their appropriate use. By empowering individuals with the knowledge to make informed decisions, the healthcare burden can be reduced, and patient safety can be enhanced in the context of self-medication practices. 



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