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A Picture of Health

A Picture of Health

February 2003

Each day, thousands of patients donít take their medication at the right time. Some take too little. Others take entirely too much. It isnít an intentional rebellion against the doctorsí orders. Itís because hundreds of thousands of patients canít read.

The most sophisticated science has not been able to cure what is now known as the "invisible epidemic" - but perhaps the most primitive elements of civilization can. A series of pictograms, or pictures that represent instructions, may be the key to bridging the gap between illiteracy and good health. Pictograms first emerged in ancient Egypt as one of the earliest forms of written communication. Oralia Bazaldua, Pharm.D., modernized the concept.

With funding from the Texas Academy of Family Physicians, Dr. Bazaldua led a team of medical residents in developing pictograms specifically for labels on prescription medications.

"Unfortunately, patients with low literacy often do not know the name, purpose or correct dosing of their medications, and that can lead to non-adherence," Dr. Bazaldua said. "Medication non-adherence is a major public health problem that has been called an Ďinvisible epidemic.í It could lead to poorer health status and health disparities, and is likely to increase health care costs."

Pfizer Pharmaceuticals awarded Dr. Bazaldua a two-year grant to determine if the illustrations not only increase medical knowledge but improve long-term disease outcomes in patients with diabetes, high blood pressure or hyperlipidemia.

"Many experts recommend that pictures be used to supplement verbal instructions, but there is only limited evidence of their effectiveness, and that evidence is conflicting," Dr. Bazaldua said. "The Health Science Center is ideal for evaluating this problem. Our Family Health Center cares for an underserved population that is uninsured and lower-income with limited education and skills."

Dr. Bazaldua is working in conjunction with Cindy Alford, Ph.D., a language and literacy specialist in the department of family and community medicine, and Cervando Martinez, M.D., a professor in the department of psychiatry and an expert in cultural issues in the Hispanic population.


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