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Health Literacy A Crucial Factor in Improving Medication Access

By Yessika Moreno - Pfizer Mexico
Medical Affairs Director


By Yessika Moreno | Medical Affairs Director, Pfizer Mexico - Thu, 06/01/2023 - 09:00

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Mexico has a pending task in terms of access to medication. While accessing new treatments in our country can take an average of four years, in Brazil, the average time has been reduced to 18 months, according to the latest Access Study figures from IQVIA. Reviewing the data, it is inevitable to ask, what are the reasons for these temporal gaps? The answer is multifactorial.

As key players in the definition of a national healthcare project, our mission is to do everything necessary to provide access to cutting-edge treatments. When addressing possible solutions, the conversation often focuses on regulatory issues or research, development, and innovation timelines. However, I believe that there is an equally important variable: the role of citizens, both those who know they have a condition and those who are unaware of it.

The most recent figures from the Health at a Glance report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) show that medical consultations in Mexico decreased by 9% in 2021 compared to the previous year. Furthermore, we are among the member countries with the highest rates of preventable deaths.

Chart 1. Health at a Glance 2021: How does Mexico compare?

In societies where citizens have a strong sense of agency regarding their health, there is a healthy exchange between the needs of priority healthcare, timely diagnosis and prevention, and the transformation of the health system to address them.

There is a positive effect when individuals become involved in the care of their physical and mental health. Achieving this level of agency is the result of educational campaigns and clear, relevant information to help individuals make better choices. 

The study Avoidable Mortality in Mexico: Temporal Evolution and Associated Risk Factors, published in Salud Pública de México in 2021, found that the most common causes of avoidable mortality were cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and respiratory infections. It also identified several risk factors for avoidable mortality, including low education, poverty, and inadequate healthcare access. In particular, the study found that people living in states with lower healthcare access had higher rates of avoidable mortality.

Another risk identified for avoidable mortality was health literacy. The study found that people with lower health literacy had higher rates of avoidable mortality, even after controlling for other factors, such as age, sex, and education level.

Health literacy, which is the ability of an individual to obtain, comprehend, and utilize information to make informed decisions about their health, is a crucial factor in promoting health and preventing diseases. Individuals who can understand and act on health information are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors and access necessary healthcare services.

How can we expect the population to take relevant preventive actions if, in many cases, they do not even have clarity on pre-existing conditions or risky behaviors in their daily lives? We have focused on making significant efforts, such as aligning certain criteria with the FDA or accelerating the approval time for new treatments, but we have neglected the conversation on how to empower citizens and contribute to informed decision-making about their health.

To address this issue, it is imperative that we prioritize educating the public on the importance of preventive measures and providing them with the necessary resources to make informed decisions about their health. This can be achieved through targeted campaigns and initiatives that promote healthy lifestyles and encourage individuals to take proactive steps toward maintaining their well-being.

Furthermore, it is essential that all actors work together to create a more patient-centered approach to healthcare. This involves placing greater emphasis on patient education and engagement, as well as providing individuals with the tools and support they need to manage their health effectively.

There are great opportunities to think about new ways to communicate with individuals and educate them to improve their decision-making. Right now, the General Health Law ensures that any communication from the pharmaceutical industry to healthcare professionals is truthful, accurate, and not misleading. However, statistics show that potential patients are not visiting the doctor until it is too late.

According to the "2021 Media and Device Consumption Study" by the Institute of Advertising Bureaucracy (IAB) Mexico, 51% of internet users consume health information, a figure  that has grown compared to last year. This data indicates both a curiosity to resolve doubts and the potential exposure to false information or remedies, and a tendency toward self-diagnosis.   

The system is facing a dilemma: on one side is the need to take extreme precautions when communicating directly with individuals and, on the other, is the risk of delaying diagnoses or abandoning treatment after being exposed to inaccurate information. As I have stated in my previous contributions, a multisectoral approach to analyze our current challenges will allow us to move forward with  long-term solutions. 

To improve health literacy, we can collaborate with educational authorities to involve parents and young children in discussions about preventive care, healthy habits, and potentially inherited diseases, and to promote a culture of care. An amazing job has been done with relevant topics like teenage pregnancy. What if we make a similar effort to define long-term priorities and design a broader plan? 

Additionally, there is a need to create a more patient-centered approach to healthcare, placing greater emphasis on patient education and engagement, as well as providing individuals with the tools and support they need to manage their health effectively. This could involve working with healthcare providers to improve communication and education about preventive care and treatment options, as well as developing new technologies and resources to support patient self-management. 

Finally, there is a need to address the issue of inaccurate health information and self-diagnosis, which can lead to delayed diagnoses and treatment. This could involve working with the media and advertising industry to promote accurate and reliable health information, as well as developing new tools and resources to help individuals make informed decisions about their health. Overall, a multisectoral approach is needed to address the complex challenges facing Mexico's healthcare system and improve access to cutting-edge treatments for all citizens.

Photo by:   Yessika Moreno

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