This blog shares some of our thoughts about plain language, and the latest discussions about plain English and clear design in New Zealand, and around the world.

To find out more about Write, go to or join us on Facebook at

27 March 2012

A conversation about health literacy with Ann Privett, community pharmacist

Health literacy is the communication part of healthcare. It’s about being able to get the healthcare you need, to follow advice, and to use information to manage your health.

I had a conversation about health literacy with Ann Privett, a community pharmacist. Ann places the highest value on using the professional relationship she has with her customers to increase their health literacy. Every interaction in the pharmacy is an opportunity to dispense care with the medicines. Ann says: “The conversation has two parts. First I have a chat with a customer to find their health literacy, then I work with them to increase their knowledge and understanding and meet their needs.”

Pharmacists understand that taking medicine properly can be challenging for many people. Several language tasks are involved in taking the right dose of the right medicine, in the right way, at the right time.

But talking is only one way of increasing people’s health literacy. Ann gives practical support as well — printing medicine labels in large font; midnight blue paint on a pack or bottle of night-time tablets, and sunny yellow for day-time tablets for another customer; showing people who take warfarin, or people who have diabetes the line on the graph when she measures their blood levels. One customer now uses her three different eye drops properly by following a chart Ann made for her. The chart matches her eye drops to pictures of a left eye and right eye, and morning and night.

People have better health and a better quality of life when they manage their medicines correctly. And the government saves money because healthier people don’t need unplanned healthcare.

Go to our website for links to more blogs about health literacy

Read about our workshop Writing Health Information Clearly


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Hi Rosie
    Looking forward to more conversations about health literacy.
    I thought you might be interested in chapter 19 of John Lanchester's latest novel, Capital, which describes a scene that must be typical of many people's experience of the health system, whether here in New Zealand, or in the UK where the book is set.