It is so important that we communicate with the patients how to take care of themselves, what the medications are going to do, etc. Instead, too many patients don’t understand what doctors are saying, because they are using medical jargon instead of plain English. Here is a list of several tools to help patients understand their medical conditions:

  1. Think twice about what you want to say, then in your mind translate it into what you believe a sixth grader would understand. Make it as simple as possible. Don’t use anatomical terms, instead use simple English. Examples: swallowing tube (for esophagus), ticker (for heart), etc. I remember when I was working towards my graduate degree, a professor of mine told me that I would have to run it through a software program which would exchange the words I had written, into words a sixth-to-eight grader would understand. My professor told me this was the average comprehension level of the U.S. population.
  2. Try to find visual prompts to use with your patients that shows them the anatomy and then explain the anatomy (in very simplified terms,) before you explain to them what is wrong with their own anatomy.
  3. If you’re unable to find a diagram, use your hands. I once explained to a patient why her bone density was important in preventing fractures. She understood the concept when I used my closed tightened hand would resist impact much better than my open hand would, which would just give way.
  4. Ask your patient to parrot back to you what they do understand. By listening to what they’ve processed, you’re able to see what they didn’t understand and go back over that aspect of it for them. 

Communicating medical information to patients is very important. Patients can then use it to hopefully improve their own health outcomes. And isn’t that what we all want? Better health outcomes for patients?