Recently, we were approached by a doctor at the 2016 American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery (ASCRS) conference with a request to create a model that would explain the causes of dry eye, as well as how it is diagnosed and treated. You can learn more about the model here.
Of course, the medical field, in particular optometry and ophthalmology, is loaded with scientific terms and jargon. While using a model helps to show patients what is happening with their eyes, if you use terms like ocular orbit or lacrimal glands you run the risk of making things unclear for patients and unintentionally hindering their compliance efforts. This isn’t just a problem with optometry and ophthalmology patients. Low health literacy, which is defined by the Institute of Medicine as “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions,” costs the American healthcare system up to $73 billion each year.
So, how do you ensure that your patients truly understand you?
Let patients know both in word and deed that you welcome questions because you want to help them manage their condition and maintain good health. As much as you like them, you want your patients to be out living their lives, not making multiple trips to your office because of unclear instructions.
Make more information available
Sometimes patients won’t ask for more information, even if they desire it. So make patient friendly information available and provide it in more than one way. Fact sheets, diagrams, models, and websites can all help patients learn more about their condition via consumer friendly language.
It is not dumb to describe blocked tear ducts as similar to clogged pipes or cataracts as similar to a window that isn’t washed. These analogies help to explain what the patient’s problem is and how to treat it.
Repeat Key Points
This is one place where it is acceptable to sound like a broken record. Patients need to know what they must do to maintain good health. They also need to be told how their condition/age impacts their health and influences the likelihood of complications. You should repeat how important it is for patients to put drops in their eyes for glaucoma, to monitor their glucose, or whatever else they need to do to stay healthy. Repeating key points helps the patient to remember what needs to be done and drives home how important it is to use eye drops or monitor glucose or whatever else is needed to maintain good health.
All patients benefit when plain language is used. While you spend years learning the meaning of terms like ocular orbit and lacrimal glands, not everyone knows what they mean and how those and other terms relate to their condition. Keep it simple, because using terms patients that understand helps with compliance and ultimately helps them to maintain good health.