Helping Patients Take Responsibility for Medical Comprehension

Helping Patients Take Responsibility for Medical Comprehension

Health Literacy MonthThe average American reads at an 8th grade level, but health care information is communicated at a college-graduate level. This disconnect leads to confusion, frustration and a feeling of helplessness for doctors and patients.

The American Medical Society addressed the problem in a video uploaded onto YouTube. In the video, the AMA gives doctors recommendations on how to make sure patients understand what they are told during office visits:

However, patients do not have to sit and wait for their doctor to employ the best practices recommended by the AMA. Instead, they can take action to encourage their doctor to take these steps. Then the patient leaves each office visit truly understanding their health issues, the reason for treatment, and the way to make sure that treatment is successful.

The AMA recommends doctors make their offices an open and shame-free environment. They can do this by creating an attitude of helpfulness in each employee. When patients enter a doctor’s office, they often think of it as a hostile environment. This attitude puts the entire responsibility on the provider to make patients feel safe and comfortable. Patients can and should ask for help, and be willing to open up. If they reach out, they may be surprised at the positive reaction it creates.

For example, a patient may have trouble filling out forms or a questionnaire provided by office staff. It is perfectly acceptable to ask for help filling out the form. Patients can also ask for privacy during this process. By reaching out, the office staff member can recognize a patient is making an often uncomfortable gesture and respond positively.

A doctor also needs to know all the medication a person takes, so when a patient visits, they should bring in the actual bottles of their medications. Then a doctor can make sure the patient understands how and when they should be ingesting each pill. By giving the doctor this information, it helps a patient better comprehend their directions.

When meeting with a doctor, a patient should feel empowered to ask questions and suggest methods that will help them grasp the instructions. Here are some specific tips and tactics:

  • Ask the doctor to slow down
  • Ask that the message be broken down into three important takeaways
  • Ask for visual aids
  • Involve family members in the conversation to help communicate explanations
  • Ask to teach the message and/or instructions back to the doctor to check for accuracy

If a patient takes these steps, it not only improves their understanding of their care, they also feel more in control of their treatment, and they create a better relationship with a health care provider. This type of interaction can help create a partnership between them going forward.

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