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How to Talk to Patients Without Being Simplistic

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March 04, 2019

How to Talk to Patients Without Being Simplistic

Jennifer Morency

picture How to Talk to Patients Without Being Simplistic

When a patient is being explained a complicated treatment or new terms that they need to get familiar with, it can often feel overwhelming. This can sometimes lead to patients feeling like doctors use long, uncommon terms to throw them off.

In reality, doctors simply want the patient to be presented all the tools and information they can get, which can sometimes be a lot.

You Have My Attention

Doctors often struggle with the balance of providing an overload of information to the patient and trying to be as clear as possible. Just like anyone being provided lots of new data, it can be difficult to grasp all at once.

However, it is relatively easier to transmit information to patients when you know you have their full attention because it is directly affecting them and the reason they came in to begin with. There is no need to get creative in order to capture their attention. They know in these situations that their patient’s undivided attention will lead to them taking the necessary steps to maintain or improve their health.

Being Simplistic While Staying Novel

What about situations where someone isn’t personally affected? What about the information that doctors and specialists are trying to convey to the general public? How do they get their attention?

James Hamblin presents this concept in his TedTalk Talking simply, not simplistically, about health. He introduces the notion that most of what doctors have to share with patients, whether it be face-to-face or through the media, is seen as uninteresting and a lot more difficult to latch on to than other news.

Why? It’s simple: news and ads are usually worded and presented in a way that is novel and captivating. General health information, on the other hand, can be easily disregarded when it doesn’t personally affect the person hearing or reading it.

Appealing to the General Public

“Take the flu. It happens every year and people know that it kills half a million people every year, that there is a risk for a global pandemic and that it is prevented by very simple means of staying home when you are sick and washing your hands and yet, people do not want to read a story about that. A lot of people will get sick and die from the flu. So how do we engage people around that? What I did was have a public health campaign of sorts around fist-bumps called the fist-bump manifesto. I said that we need to professionally adopt the fist-bump and just make it socially acceptable instead of shaking hands.” James Hamblin, physician, journalist, improv comedian.

This may seem somewhat trivial, but it is a widespread conversation that is pushing doctors and other healthcare professionals to think outside the box when it comes to educating the general public.

David Epstein, a paediatric intensive care physician in California, was approached to discuss vaccines. The YouTube channel, Jubilee, known to talk about hot topics, asked Epstein to debate vaccines with people who are opposed to them. The video, which includes people from each group of thought, 3 anti-vaccine and three pro-vaccine, has already been viewed over 2.2M times.

Emphasis on finding ways to appeal to the general public on issues that are avoidable through simple means is growing. Although some issues throw healthcare professionals for a loop, others entice them to think outside the box and find novel ways to address or even try to prevent them.