As a team member and contributor to the Travel Fit Club program, I have been thinking about a discussion I would like to host at a senior center. The discussion focuses on health literacy and how your health is in your communication.
Based on my experience in communicating with doctors while living abroad, I understand the challenges that accompany communicating with health professionals. Health settings can be stressful and scary, whether you are at a doctor's office, in the hospital, or at an imaging center for scans. Add specialized vocabulary, use of jargon, legal forms, complex procedures and processes, and you have the recipe for communication failure.
Studies show that if you are a typical patient, you remember less than half of what your doctor tries to explain.
Being literate means being informed and having knowledge and understanding. If you do not understand, how can you make the appropriate decisions about your health?
The three biggest obstacles to understanding are:
- The amount of time you spend with your doctor to be able to understand information.
- The embarrassment you feel when you do not understand what a doctor or a health professional says.
- The difference in power when you are half naked and you have a doctor in a white coat in front of you.
Limited health literacy affects everyone, regardless of age, race, income, or education. However, research shows that older adults, people with limited education, and people with limited English proficiency are more affected. For non-native English speakers, understanding may be compromised due to specialized vocabulary that health professionals use to communicate health information.
What can you do to be proactive to ensure you understand when you communicate with a doctor or a health professional?
Take the initiative!
- Plan ahead by making a list of questions and concerns to take with you to the doctor. Be sure you also include a list of the medication you are taking at the moment.
- If the doctor says something you do not understand, ask the doctor to repeat in simpler language.
- Take notes or take along an advocate who can take notes for you.
- If you are given a new set of instructions, repeat them back to the doctor to confirm your understanding.
- If the doctor gives you a new device to use, demonstrate how you think you are to use it.
- Insist that conversations about serious medical matters take place when you are dressed and in the doctor’s office.
Always remember that you are responsible for your communication, and ultimately, your health. By taking responsibility and actively participating in the decision-making process about your medical treatment, you can work with your doctor for your highest good.
The more you understand, the better you will be able to make decisions that affect your health.
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