Redesigning pictographs for patients with low health literacy and establishing preliminary steps for delivery via smart phones

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Medication Adherence, Health Literacy, Smartphone, Patient Education as Topic, Health Communication, United States


Background: Pictographs (or pictograms) have been widely utilized to convey medication related messages and to address nonadherence among patients with low health literacy. Yet, patients do not always interpret the intended messages on commonly used pictographs correctly and there are questions how they may be delivered on mobile devices.

Objective: Our objectives are to refine a set of pictographs to use as medication reminders and to establish preliminary steps for delivery via smart phones.

Methods: Card sorting was used to identify existing pictographs that focus group members found “not easy” to understand. Participants then explored improvements to these pictographs while iterations were sketched in real-time by a graphic artist. Feedback was also solicited on how selected pictographs might be delivered via smart phones in a sequential reminder message. The study was conducted at a community learning center that provides literacy services to underserved populations in Seattle, WA. Participants aged 18 years and older who met the criteria for low health literacy using S-TOFHLA were recruited.

Results: Among the 45 participants screened for health literacy, 29 were eligible and consented to participate. Across four focus group sessions, participants examined 91 commonly used pictographs, 20 of these were ultimately refined to improve comprehensibility using participatory design approaches. All participants in the fifth focus group owned and used cell phones and provided feedback on preferred sequencing of pictographs to represent medication messages.

Conclusion: Low literacy adults found a substantial number of common medication label pictographs difficult to understand. Participative design processes helped generate new pictographs, as well as feedback on the sequencing of messages on cell phones, that may be evaluated in future research.

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