When it comes to communication, how you say is just as important as what you say – especially when it comes to health matters.
This can seem counter-intuitive for many healthcare providers trained to deal efficiently with scientific and provable facts. However, studies have demonstrated time and time again that the emotional nature of health issues have a significant effect on how patients perceive medical information. If patients’ feelings are not taken into account when the information is prepared and communicated, they may not understand it, and seek other sources of information. How can this be prevented?
The Importance of Translating Technical Jargon
When meeting someone who is not fluent in English, we naturally simplify the way we speak, or ask someone to interpret. Similarly, the medical language health professionals know so well is just as alien to many English speakers as an actual foreign language. Without “translating” medical language into words your patients understand, they may feel confused and frustrated, which creates a barrier between them and the knowledge they need. How can you make sure your message is understood, believed and appreciated by your audience?
By considering who you are talking to, what is the message, how to communicate it and how much information to provide:
4 Steps for Effective Communication in the Healthcare Field
1. Who: Consider your audience – Is your audience composed of older patients with limited web literacy, or to young parents active on social media? Are they concentrated in a specific region, or spread out across the country, or the world? Do they come from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds? All these facts will affect the way your audience perceives your information.
2. What: Take into account the nature of the information – Is the information mainly practical in nature or is the patient dealing with difficult treatment options for a painful chronic illness? Is the topic likely to cause embarrassment to the patient, which might make them hesitate to ask questions? Determining the nature of the information will be helpful in choosing the best way to communicate it, such as through one-on-one conversations, printed material or online resources.
3. How: Speak to people on their level – Make your message easily understood and promote health literacy by communicating with patients according to their knowledge level, online habits and cultural perceptions.
When speaking with laypersons, keep in mind that using plain language will improve the effectiveness of your message, since 49% of the Canadian population deals with some sort of literacy limitation.
When intended for members of the public, use of medical jargon actually damages the credibility of your health information, even though the person might not be aware of this negative effect. To inspire trust, be sure to use accessible, easy-to-digest information that won’t overwhelm patients.
4. How much: Give as much as people need, but not more – The amount of information given should also be considered: too much information may cause anxiety, while too little creates fear and might push patients to seek help from less credible sources. Instead of giving them a pile of material all at once, divide it into parts that can be delivered according to the patient’s needs and their ability to assimilate the information.
Build Long Lasting Trust with Your Patients
By communicating medical information in an accessible language that takes into account your audience’s literacy level, cultural background and online habits, you show that you really care about giving them something of value that will improve their health literacy and quality of life. After all, isn’t that the point?