“Medspeak” can shut down effective communication with patients

‘The 56-year-old inpatient is scared and worried. His physician has told him the swelling in his right calf that brought him to the hospital may be caused by an “agent” or “pathogen,” but he is confused. An “agent” sounds like a person, and a “pathogen” sounds like “psychopath.” When the physician returns with the diagnosis, cellulitis, and says it is an “inflammation of the skin and subcutaneous tissues,” the patient is further confused and flummoxed about deciding whether to stay in the hospital for antibiotic treatment or receive a prescription and rest at home…’

‘Only 12 percent of U.S. adults are highly proficient when it comes to health literacy, which is the capacity to understand and act on medical information…

‘Killian and Coletti [http://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/2017/03/pfor1-1703.html] argue that physicians should make use of the Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit, published by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), to protect patients’ dignity and autonomy, manage the legal risks of misunderstandings, comply with accrediting bodies’ regulations, and improve patient safety and health care outcomes…

‘AHRQ also advises that to communicate clearly, physicians should:

  • Greet patients warmly. Receive everyone with a welcoming smile, and maintain a friendly attitude throughout the visit.
  • Make eye contact. Make appropriate eye contact throughout the interaction.
  • Listen carefully. Try not to interrupt patients when they are talking. Pay attention, and be responsive to the issues they raise and questions they ask.
  • Use plain, nonmedical language. Don’t use medical words. Use common words that you would use to explain medical information to your friends or family, such as stomach or belly instead of abdomen
  • Use the patient’s words. Take note of what words the patient uses to describe his or her illness and use them in your conversation.
  • Slow down. Speak clearly and at a moderate pace.
  • Limit and repeat content. Prioritize what needs to be discussed, and limit information to three to five key points and repeat them
  • Be specific and concrete. Don’t use vague and subjective terms that can be interpreted in different ways.
  • Show graphics. Draw pictures, use illustrations, or demonstrate with 3-D models. All pictures and models should be simple, designed to demonstrate only the important concepts, without detailed anatomy.
  • Demonstrate how it’s done. Whether doing exercises or taking medicine, a demonstration of how to do something may be clearer than a verbal explanation.
  • Invite patient participation. Encourage patients to ask questions and be involved in the conversation during visits and to be proactive in their health care…’

The full article is freely available here: https://wire.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/medspeak-can-shut-down-effective-communication-patients

Best wishes, Neil

Let’s build a future where people are no longer dying for lack of healthcare information – Join HIFA: www.hifa.org  

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