A recent article published in JAMA, The Arc of Health Literacy, presents a problem that is expected to grow as more consumers enter the healthcare market.
Health literacy has extended beyond patient comprehension and now includes "shared responsibility from clinicians, institutions, and care systems. The arc of health literacy bends toward population health. Leveraging such an approach now can comprehensively address the paradox of limited literacy with the hope that someday all people can fully realize their full health potential."
As a result, despite abundant messaging from health professionals, the media, the Internet, and other sources, too many patients still have difficulty with seemingly routine tasks such as taking the right medicine at the right time, properly self-managing diabetes, or correctly following hospital discharge instructions. In this increasingly complicated health information environment, even the most sophisticated adult can be overwhelmed by unfamiliar medical terms, unexplained acronyms, and technical jargon. The paradox is that people are awash in knowledge they may be unable to use.
The goal is to create patient communication tools free of the rhetoric and often esoteric language of medicine. Writing in a clear and accessible tone preferrably comprehendable at the level of a middle-schooler is the goal of helping patients navigate the often unfamiliar world of insurance lingo as well as the recommendations of their provider.
Writing for patients or healthcare consumers is not easy. You will not find my fingerprints on any consumer publications because I can't do it. I have done it from time to time and have several publications that I am proud of but as a rule the juice isn't worth the squeeze. I was actually told to describe a ureter "like a piece of spaghetti" and instantly knew my days were numbered. It is more than just "dumbing down" content, it is a shift of perspectives.
Obviously patients are a heterogeneous crowd. Many are professional and are capable of deciphering medical content written that is written clearly but well above the minimum reading level standard. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills stated "Across the countries involved in the study, between 4.9% and 27.7% of adults are proficient at only the lowest levels in literacy and 8.1% to 31.7% are proficient at only the lowest levels in numeracy."
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In a world of "evidence-based" medicine I am a bigger fan of practice-based evidence.
Remember the quote by Upton Sinclair...
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”