Health Literacy in Action: ODPHP’s Pathways to Safer Opioid Use Interactive Training


In recognition of National Health Literacy Month, we’re highlighting a resource for health care providers that uses strategies for improving health literacy to promote safe use of medication in order to prevent adverse drug events (ADEs). Health literacy is the degree to which a person has the capacity to obtain, communicate, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions. A person’s health literacy influences the way they access and use health information and services.

ODPHP’s online training tool, Pathways to Safer Opioid Use, shows the relationships between health literacy and health care quality by modeling how health care teams and people with chronic pain can work together to ensure that these individuals use opioids safely and effectively. The training was developed using the Health Literate Care Model, which is designed to improve health outcomes by increasing productive patient-doctor interactions through shared decision making and patient engagement.

The training allows participants to assume the role of 4 characters — a nurse, physician, patient, and pharmacist. During the training, participants learn strategies to improve health literacy and develop skill sets that are integral to the Health Literate Care Model — for example, shared decision making, the teach-back method, and patient engagement.

  • Shared decision making: During the primary care provider portion of the training, participants see how effective dialogue helps ensure that health care providers understand their patients’ priorities and values — and that they clearly identify different treatment options, describe the risks and benefits of each in plain language, and involve patients in the development of a treatment plan.
  • Teach-back method: Throughout the training, participants learn about this effective strategy for confirming that health care providers have explained what patients need to know in a way that the patients can understand. And during the pharmacy portion, participants practice the teach-back method in a scenario in which a patient presents a new opioid prescription.
  • Patient engagement: During the nursing portion of the training, participants practice patient engagement techniques such as assessing risk, building rapport, and gaining insight into the mental state of people with chronic pain. Effectively engaging patients reinforces their role on the health care team and empowers patients to play an active role in their pain management.

Pathways to Safer Opioid Use was developed to promote recommendations outlined in the National Action Plan for Adverse Drug Event Prevention (ADE Action Plan). The ADE Action Plan specifically recommends that federal agencies explore ways to improve uptake of evidence-based strategies for safe opioid prescribing, including training various health care providers.

The bottom line is that health literacy directly impacts health care quality. Patients with stronger health literacy skills experience better health outcomes. Pathways to Safer Opioid Use can help health care providers develop the skills they need to engage their patients, take a person-centered approach, and ensure appropriate, safe, and effective use of opioids.

Note: Continuing Medical Education credit (CME) is available for physicians through the American Public Health Association and Continuing Pharmacy Education credit (CPE) is available for pharmacists through the American Pharmacist Association.