By Melissa Bailey, Education Director
Whenever I drop my car off at the auto body shop the conversation with my mechanic usually goes something like this:
“My car is making a funny noise. It sounds like something is dangling.”
“A funny noise, huh? Like metal scraping against metal?”
“No, not really.”
“Okay, how about when you tap a pen against a coffee mug?”
“Yes! Just like that.”
This is why I LOVE my mechanic! He doesn’t use words like piston rings, crankshaft, or compression. He speaks on my level and makes me feel like a part of the process.
Let’s face it: medical jargon can be incredibly confusing! Especially for patients and caregivers who do not have a medical background, entering the world of medical jargon can be intimidating and frustrating, much like swimming in a sea of the unfamiliar. Just as a good car mechanic realizes that not everyone knows the function of a carburetor, clinicians must remember that most patients need medical explanation on incredibly basic levels.
In the most recent literacy study released by the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, over half of adults in the 65+ age category had Below Basic or Basic health literacy. This matches with the 30 percent of Medicare or Medicaid recipients at the same level. Let’s look at some examples of Below Basic health literacy abilities:
-The ability to circle the date of a medical appointment on a hospital appointment slip
-Identify what is permissible to drink before a medical test, based on a set of short instructions
-Identify how often a person should have a specified medical test, based on information in a clearly written pamphlet
One can imagine that if many have difficulty solving the above problems, for an average patient visiting a wound center, the ability to critically think through and follow their treatment plan, might be compromised.
The good news is that one of the most accessible answers to low health literacy is simple: creativity! Your patients may not understand words like matrix metalloproteinases or proliferation, but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost! By learning to teach medical science simply to your patients (without creating a simplistic environment where all meaning is lost) you can engage patients in the healing process and work towards greater compliance.
In the day-to-day busy-ness of a well-run clinic, the last thing on your mind might be creativity in patient education. Considering the staggering numbers that most wound centers achieve, it is no wonder that you barely have time to think about this! You are to be applauded for the effective wound care that you provide.
So, to practice what we preach, let’s keep it simple! When thinking through patient education ask one question:
If I knew nothing about science, how could I still understand what is happening?
Word pictures, props, images, and metaphors will go a long way in educating patients. Keep the creativity flowing and share your ideas with the wound healing community. Let’s share our arsenal of simple patient education ideas as we work towards holistic healing!