Understanding today’s medicines, with their complex modes of action and potential side effects, can be difficult for many people. As a result, many people may find it hard to stick to taking a prescribed medicine the right way at the right time, which can impact treatment success and quality of life.

At the core is health literacy – the ability to effectively comprehend, evaluate and use health information to make informed choices. On average, American adults read at an 8th or 9th grade level, with 1 out of 5 of all adults and 2 out of 5 adults over the age of 65 reading at or below a 5th grade level.1,2 

In addition to fundamental literacy, health literacy also comprises three other forms of literacy that are often overlooked but need to be taken into consideration when developing patient-facing materials:

•    Scientific literacy – understanding basic scientific concepts, such as the location and function of the body’s organs and how a particular medicine may affect the body
•    Civic literacy – understanding how to navigate the healthcare system and access support services
•    Cultural literacy – recognizing and understanding the beliefs, customs, and social identity associated with diverse cultures

Unfortunately, most healthcare materials are written at a 10th grade reading level or higher, meaning that many Americans misunderstand prescribing information, including how best to access the medicines they need and how to manage their treatment regimen.

As a member of the pharmaceutical community, Astellas is committed to addressing this problem and to helping patients improve their health literacy and, consequently, their lives by ensuring our patient-facing materials have the following:

•    Use simple language and define technical terms
•    Organize material so that important points come first
•    Make complex information understandable
•    Use active voice, avoid medical jargon and aim for clarity, conciseness and accuracy
•    Ensure illustrations support and enhance the written content

“Patients need information provided to them in a way that helps them understand their condition as well as the risks and benefits of their medication,” says Doug Noland, Executive Director, Patient Partnerships. “Easy-to-understand materials help patients and their caregivers recognize what they need to know and do, such as obtaining the care they need and following medical advice accurately, so that treatment is both therapeutically effective and cost-effective.”

With these health literacy resources in place, Astellas is also applying the standards in other areas, including consumer Important Safety Information (ISI) documents; updating internal development processes to incorporate patient review of draft materials; and reviewing informed consent materials for clinical trials.


1.    Safeer RS, Keenan J. Health literacy: the gap between physicians and patients. Am Fam Phys. 2005;72(3):463-468. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16100861/. Accessed August 17, 2020. 

2.    Harvard University (2012). The literacy problem. Available at: https://cdn1.sph.harvard.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/135/2012/09/doakchap1-4.pdf. Accessed August 17, 2020.