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GPs urged to verbalise instructions to patients

GP practices should give both written and verbal instructions to all patients as poor literacy skills often go undetected in the consulting room, say medical defence experts.

The Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland claims literacy levels were a significant barrier in maintaining patients' health, and were often not picked up by GPs when explaining treatments to patients.

The advice comes as a study, by Public Health Wales, showed that poor literacy skills were prevalent across Wales, and not just in poor, deprived areas. The MDDS added that poor literacy levels among white Welsh people was often harder to detect by GPs, while among patients for whom English or Welsh was not their first language, literacy problems were easier to identify.

Medical information is now increasingly presented to patients in written form, through leaflets or posters, and the MDDUS advises that instructions on how to take medication and its potential side effects should be given verbally and supplemented with written material.

MDDS medical adviser Barry Parker said: ‘Adults who struggle to read are often too embarrassed to disclose this, even in the confidential setting of a doctor's consulting room.'

‘It's also possible they have developed strategies to compensate for their difficulties, so they may not be immediately apparent.'

He added: ‘Patients for whom English isn't their first language may have similar troubles, but will be easier to identify and extra time can be taken to ensure the doctor is fully understood, with the help of an interpreter if necessary.'