Health Literacy

I got the opportunity to observe a health literacy class at a community outreach center yesterday. It reminded me just how simple, but critical, this concept is to health care.

It was review day, and the adult learners talked about what they'd learned over the weeks of class.

"When to go to the emergency room, or urgent care, or to call my doctor."

"What I need to do for my health and what my rights are."

"That I need to keep all my health information in a notebook."

"That taking my medicine, eating vegetables and drinking water can help me be healthier." 

I know a lot about health. But health communications needs to meet people where they are. Make it clear and simple. Let them ask questions. You may need to go back and start with the basics -- but using good health literacy practices means people feel respected and involved.

Take the time to understand where your patients are coming from. When they know what to expect, you'll avoid some of the common obstacles. 

Jargon Alert!

Do you need an interdisciplinary team with a board-certified specialist and an advanced practice team experienced in quarternary care? Due to your anticholinergic burden and idiopathic DCIS status, we want to avoid peripheral neuropathy.

If you work in health care, you might know some of these terms, in fact, they might roll right off your tongue. But for a patient, it can be overwhelming. They say that doctors go to medical school to learn a new language, but they don't learn how to translate it!

Even just the word "interdisciplinary" is not intuitive. I heard a friend say "Oh, they must really be in trouble if it's interdisciplinary!" When you don't think of different aspects of medicine as disciplines, this makes very little sense!

One of the roles I play in grant scouting and editing is to help medical professionals realize when they are headed too deep into the weeds of jargon. Know your audience. If it's a board of a foundation, keep it clear and simple. If it's the National Institutes of Health, maybe it's fine. 

Speaking of the NIH, they did a study about medical communication that found  that 79 percent of emergency room patients didn't know the word hemorrhage was the same as bleeding and 78 percent didn't know a fracture was a broken bone. 

Health literacy is absolutely critical these days, because it you can't say it simply, your patient may just decide not to do anything. As Albert Einstein said, "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." Keep it simple!