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News / November 12, 2008

New national health literacy campaign launched

by Guy Hiscott

A new national health literacy campaign, the MSD/NALA Health Literacy Initiative, was launched earlier this week to help health professionals communicate clearly with patients. 

Health literacy is a person’s ability to make sound health decisions in the context of everyday life. With over 50% of the Irish population affected in some way by literacy difficulties, it now appears that this could be impacting on their health.

The Initiative, a collaboration between Merck Sharp & Dohme Ireland (Human Health) Ltd and the National Adult Literacy Agency, aims not only to recognise and reward efforts by health professionals to communicate clearly with patients through the Crystal Clear MSD Health Literacy Awards but also to provide practical tools to the healthcare community that can assist them in improving their communication skills with patients who may have health literacy difficulties.

These tools include a dedicated web portal for health professionals, policy makers and the public, plus the distribution of calendars and appointment card booklets that promote three ‘Top Tips’ to communicating clearly with patients.

The ‘Top Tips’ were developed by NALA and recommend health professionals consider the following points when communicating with patients:
1. Avoid medical jargon, use plain English
2. Use images or visual aids where possible
3. Ask the patient to repeat what you have told them in their own words to ensure they understand.

Speaking at the launch, Dr Ailís ní Riain, project director at the Irish College of General Practitioners, said: ‘The onus is on us, as healthcare professionals, to communicate clearly, use plain English and ensure the patient understands the information. The Top Tips developed through this initiative will hopefully be a reminder to all of us on how to communicate clearly so patients make informed health decisions and we see them taking and following the advice of their healthcare professional.’

The Top Tips can be downloaded from and are being promoted through the supply of specially commissioned cartoon desk calendars and appointment cards for use with patients who may have health literacy difficulties. The cartoons, designed by leading US satirist Mark Parisi, depict humorous situations relating to health literacy. The calendars and appointment card booklets are available from MSD representatives or by emailing

For information on applying to the Awards, please visit Entries must be received by no later than Friday 30 January 2009.