Why Health Literacy matters to us at MSD

September 2022

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Antibodies. Variants. Transmissibility. Who would have ever thought we’d use words like these in everyday life?

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted how important it is to understand health information to help keep ourselves and our families, friends and communities healthy.

Improving health literacy – defined as a person’s ability to find, understand and use information and services to make health-related decisions for themselves and others – is important to health situations across the board, from disease prevention options to clinical trials to cancer, HIV, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and many others.

Getting information that is accurate, relevant and presented in a meaningful way is challenging- especially in the digital age where we might have to navigate often contradictory health messages or even misinformation. As a pharmaceutical company, MSD has a vital role to play in ensuring that the information we provide to the people who are prescribed our medicines reaches the highest standards.

It is for this reason we have committed to joining the Patient Information Forum’s PIF-TICK standard . Being part of the scheme not only means we should be assuring accuracy, but also co-creating health information with the people it is being made for. It also means working collaboratively with organisations who know the communities most affected by the diseases and conditions we work in. Our policy statement on patient information creation can be found here

Why improving health literacy is urgent

The Patient Information forum say that:

  • 1 in 6 in UK have very low literacy skills[i], [ii]
  • up to 1 million people in UK cannot speak English well or at all[iii]

Knowing that this will impact on health inequality and outcomes means we know we need to do a better job at meeting people where they are and on their terms.

How we’re making health information easier to understand

Internationally, some of the ways we’re improving health literacy in our own communications include:

  • Creating easy-to-read patient labels
  • Improving packaging and instructions for use
  • Developing easy-to-understand disease education materials
  • Improving health literacy in clinical trials
  • Sharing best practices externally

There is always more we can do and we aim to keep improving.

Have you seen some MSD patient materials or information?

What did you think?

We would love suggestions on how we could do better and things we should do more of. Email our Medical Information team at:

[i] Survey of Adult Skills 2012

[ii] Skills for Life 2011


GB-NON-06409 | Date of Preparation: September 2022