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Say Ah!’s tips help you improve the health literacy of your patients, clients and consumers, and their caregivers and communities. The tips focus on helping people understand what they need to know and to improve or maintain their health. Good communication is key!

General Tips

  • TOP TIP: Focus on What a Patient/Client Needs to Know: Whether it is a diagnosis, a treatment, scheduling a follow-up appointment, or directions to a health center, spend most of your time on this information. When you give information that is “nice to know,” it only dilutes what is “needed to know.”
  • Highlight and Repeat Important Information: Most patients don’t know what’s important and what’s not, so tell them! Say “this is important” or “you need to know.” Then repeat the information, again. And again if you need to.
  • Communicate Clearly: Anyone who is in your office, clinic, center or outreach van or emailing you about their health may already be vulnerable and could be experiencing cognition impairment due to illness, injury, or anxiety.  Make it easy for them by using clear and simple language:
    • 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 means 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.”

Verbal Communication

  • Be direct about the importance of health literacy by saying to your patients: “The more you can understand about your health, the better off you will be”
  • Discuss the importance of good communication and encourage the patient to:
    • Speak up when he or she doesn’t understand
    • Correct any misinformation
    • Ask questions
    • Be as truthful as possible — and because lying can be so automatic, let them know it’s okay to go back and correct the record
  • Ask your patient/client how s/he best learns (i.e. through reading, talking or visual example), and use this method as the main way you communicate.

Written Communication