The typical patient leaves their doctor’s office only remembering about half of the information given. Whether it’s being told too many things at once or not understanding all that you’re told, more than 90 million Americans don’t understand basic health information. And a patient’s level of education doesn’t matter much in what they can and can’t understand.
While medical education is the primary place for this problem to be remedied, according to the article author, patients aren’t passive participants.
Do not wait until doctors become better at communicating. If you want the best medical care, you have to take the initiative. If the doctor says something you do not understand, ask that it be repeated in simpler language. If you are given a new set of instructions, repeat them back to the doctor to confirm your understanding. If you are given 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. Take notes or take along an advocate who can take notes for you. Better yet, tape-record the conversation to replay it at home for you and your family or another doctor.
Good luck getting your doc to let you record your conversation, but the rest of the author’s suggestions are wise. I always take notes — sloppy, unintelligible notes, so Hart goes to my significant appointments with me. Try to take a family member with you instead of a friend, so health privacy laws don’t interfere with the person’s ability to advocate.
More information on health literacy:
- Health Literacy Studies, Harvard School of Public Health
- Consumer Health Manual, National Network of Libraries of Medicine
- Health Literacy, Insititue of Medicine