Anyone struggling with poor health is probably also struggling to understand how to get well. Even seemingly simple information or instructions can be overwhelming to a patient. The following tips are helpful for both verbal and written communication, and can be used across a broad spectrum of interactions with a patient or their care provider.
Focus on “Needs to Know:” Spend most of your time on what a patient/client “needs to know” not what it is “nice to know.” Whether it is explaining how to use an inhaler, discussing treatment options, or focusing on how to follow-up, stay on message through the visit. When you give information that is “nice to know” it only dilutes what is “needed to know.”
Prioritize, Highlight and Repeat Important Information: Put the most important information first, and draw attention with a very simple “it’s really important you know this” and then repeat the information. And again if you need to.
- Limit information to 3-5 concepts
- Use everyday, plain language (and still explain “plain” words)
- Define medical terms if you need to use them
- Be specific, i.e. “plenty of water is several glasses over the course of the day” or “don’t lift heavy objects, such as anything over 20 pounds”
- Be Positive: Stress what to do, as opposed to what not to do
- Put numbers in context, i.e. “one out of 10 people” instead of “10% of the population” or “your bad cholesterol is 160, that is a higher than we want. Let’s try to get it down to below 100”
- Link motivations to life: “This medication will make it easier for you to walk up stairs”
Check Understanding: Use the teach-back method to make sure your patient/client understands important information or instructions. Tell them what they need to know then ask them to repeat it back in their own words.
For additional health literacy strategies, Say Ah!’s provides comprehensive training and workshops. Click here to learn more.