Words That Most People Don't Know...

I've heard people say that "medical school teaches you a new language" but that doctors don't learn how to translate that language well.

I attend a lot of meetings with physicians, and so I started putting words in my margins to look up. Things like "Baconian Induction" which to me, sounds like a cooking technique...but is actually part of the reasoning involved in scientific research, and "suboptimal hypertension control," which means your blood pressure is too high. 

This is one of the reasons why health literacy is so important -- not just assessing it, but teaching doctors to remember that most people don't know these precise terms. There are good reasons why medical terms are so precise -- Where is it? What's happening? How often? Is it getting worse? What's the cause?

But for patients, it makes things more confusing, as they are trying to listen to the doctor, read his or her physical cues, and determine just how bad it is. The more we learn about medicine, the more we need to remember that people working outside the field need simple, topline information.

  • What's is happening in my body?
  • What should I do next?
  • What will happen if I don't do that? 

Health literacy sounds simple, but as we often say in writing: "If you can't explain something simply, you don't understand it well enough." (attributed to Albert Einstein)

So I'm collecting words on a roll of paper in my office, to remind myself to keep it simple. 


Call Me Old Fashioned...

Managing health care for my family of five is sometimes challenging. Between us, three of us see an allergist, two a dermatologist, two a chiropractor and we all see the dentist and our primary care doctors (3 different ones!) Amidst all the industry rhetoric about metrics and big data, I find that once again in delivering excellent care and service...just keep it simple. 

Here's an example, drawn from real life. My oldest son sees an allergist and we have a multitude of forms for fill out for his inhaler and Epi-Pen before school starts and when school lets out, the same forms again for summer camp. (It's a royal pain.) We've waited the allotted 7 days from when they were dropped off for the doctor to sign the two papers.  On Friday, my youngest son had to go to the same office to get a Lego removed (Don't laugh. Apparently, this is a rite of passage for parents.) My husband was in the waiting room for three hours. It would have been delightful for the front desk staff to realize that Child 1 and Child 3 are related and hand the paperwork over, right?

Well, no amount of cross-referencing metrics and data would work nearly as efficiently as the magic of...recognition!  All it would take is for a front desk staff member to recognize that both patients were members of the same family and confirm that we were waiting on paperwork. Sure, you could look at the last name but it's in the top 10 most common. You could look at the insurance card, but who does that? Having someone who sees someone they know,  thinks about it and takes initiative is what it takes. Could've happened, but didn't.

 in my opinion, the quality and longevity of front desk staff is a gap area in most medical practices. They tend to be young and inexperienced or older and unenthusiastic. (I'm sure there are exceptions!) But these are the front lines of the health care experience for patients. Sometimes it's you, at the sliding glass window, interrupting someone in the middle of a takeout container full of Chinese food. Other times, it's you waiting to be weighed by two gossiping young ladies who seem oblivious that they are being rude (both to you and if they have been talking about another patient, you might fear the same treatment later.) 

This is a missed opportunity for improving patient experience -- providing cold drinks, up to date magazines, health education, (germ-free) toys for kids and information about what to expect during the appointment would all be appreciated.  But that takes conscious effort and I rarely see that anymore. 

Practices with well-trained, enthusiastic and competent frontline staff can manage a myriad of problems behind the scenes. After all, patients are spending hours in the waiting room...

The Health Journal Magazine May Issue

Don't Be On Autopilot When it Comes to Autoimmune Diseases
By Natalie Miller Moore

Thanks to all the people who helped me find these interviews!

Women in their 20s and 30sare busy—they’ve got kids and jobs and stress. So when they feel tired, or achy, they tend not to think much about it. Too many times, women write off these symptoms as unimportant. But autoimmune (AI) diseases affect twice as many women as men, and they often begin to show up mid-life.

“When I was seven months postpartumwith my son, things starting getting weird. I had headaches, I’d get dizzy. When I had really bad pains in my hands and wrists—I thought they were carpal tunnel from holding him,” said Betsy Lavin, 43, from Williamsburg, Virginia.

In Betsy’s case, it was more than that.Her symptoms of fatigue and joint painpiled up, but she thought it was normalnew mother stress... read more over at the Health Journal.