A study by the American Health Information Management Association showed that approximately 62% of Americans are uncertain about understanding what their health providers tell them. The problem lies with the medical vocabulary used by health providers, which often leads to the patients’ non-compliance to medical instructions, which could lead to catastrophic consequences.
Health literacy, which reflected a patient’s comprehension of their health provider’s instructions and recommended treatment plan, is what’s causing this. About 50% of the American population is limited in health literacy, so they can’t easily obtain, understand and use health information provided at medical centers. As a result, compliance with medical instructions is not seen as a priority, and the full implications of non-compliance are not completely assimilated.
This problem is deeply rooted in the medical system and is far from localized. However, the solutions must be implemented step-by-step, from patient to patient. If you’re wondering how to become the agent of change in this problem, understand that, in most cases, the language you use leads to patient confusion and non-compliance. So, by changing your vocabulary, you bridge the knowledge gap between you and your patient.
Steadily Shifting the Language Dilemma
There is a language dilemma between physicians and their patients, and this stems from the fact that medical information is complicated and complex. The terminology, which becomes second nature to medical practitioners, is otherworldly confusing to regular people. Therein lies the issue – when patients don’t understand what you’re talking about, they either become estranged or intimidated.
It’s not just people with limited health literacy who are conflicted by the language dilemma. Even patients with a good knowledge base are often confused by uncommon words, expressions, or abbreviations. Think of diuresis, BP, anaphylaxis, brachial plexus injury, chronic-acute, malignant, adjuvant therapy, and more. These terms don’t mean anything to many patients.
The fee-for-service paradigm of the medical system further propagates the language dilemma. With the healthcare system becoming more transactional and business-focused, few are those who focus on the patient’s comfort, safety, and health. Quantity, rather than quality, is the primary drive today.
However, it is the exact opposite of that, a transformative primary care model that values the patient’s comprehensive health, that should be sought. In such a system, the patient is not perceived as a mere client, and the doctor is not a care provider. Similarly, their meetings are not referred to as encounters. The medical jargon has become overly artificial, lacking in humanity and emotion, influencing how patients interact with us.
Change Your Language to Change Your Patient’s Outcome for the Better
It’s not a mere assumption that we, as doctors, don’t directly control our patient’s well-being and health. We offer guidance, advice, and recommendations, but it’s up to the patient whether to follow that advice or not. What happens when a patient doesn’t understand the information we transmit or the advice we give? They either don’t follow it or endanger themselves by acting on wrong assumptions.
Language use is not the only problem of this dilemma, but it is one we can easily solve by changing the way we talk to our patients. In using plain language, we should focus on transmitting information that falls into three main categories:
- The medical problem they suffer from
- What they should do to solve that problem
- Why it’s important that they solve that problem
In short, we should offer descriptive and prescriptive information, but we shouldn’t stop there. Involve your patient in their treatment plan, ask them questions, create a supportive environment, and create a roadmap for their medical literacy. With this in mind, patients will better understand that you’re there to help, and they’ll want to be helped.