So there I was one dreary Melbourne afternoon, lining up for a coffee.
The lady in front of me was discussing her back injury with a girlfriend, so I did what any responsible health professional would do.
“So do you know what is wrong with your back then?” the supportive friend asked.
“Dunno, it’s just stuffed” the injured friend replied.
“But didn’t you see a physio?” said the supportive friend.
“Yep, he said a heap of stuff I can’t really remember” replied the injured friend.
“Did he give you exercises to do?” the supportive friend asked.
“Yes but I can only remember 1 of them” lamented the injured friend, before they collected their coffees and walked away.
The injured friend’s confusion got me thinking: As health professionals, we often fall victim to the curse of knowledge, and over complicate things for our patients.
How can we ensure that patients understand and retain the information we give them? It is such a crucial ingredient in ensuring that they have a successful outcome from our intervention, and in doing so, become a lifelong advocate for our business.
Since my little eavesdropping episode, I decided that there were three main mistakes we as health professionals must avoid to ensure that our messages never get bogged down in jargon, and worse still, completely forgotten the instant they walk out our door.
MISTAKE #1 – GIVING A COMPLICATED, RUSHED EXPLANATION WITHOUT PICTURES OR PROPS
Take time in the consultation to explain what you are doing and why you are doing it. Remember, the patient is not an idiot, they just don’t know what ‘neuromeningeal dysfunction’, ‘rhabdomyelosis’ or ‘spasmodic dysphonia’ means. Cut the jargon and bring on the layman’s terms, along with some great analogies.
Most importantly, access diagrams on your laptop or iPad, draw pictures with a pen and paper, or grab a 3D model. Visual and kinaesthetic learning dramatically increases retention.
MISTAKE #2 – SENDING THE PATIENT AWAY WITH NOTHING
Every patient should walk out of your clinic with something personalised and tangible to take away. It could be the paper you drew your explanations on, a summary of the main action steps from the session, or an impressive digital take away such as a tailored exercise program sent to their smartphone.
The ‘take away gift’ keeps your message in your patient’s mind for longer, reinforces key points, and puts your contact details within easy reach for follow up.
MISTAKE #3 – NOT FOLLOWING UP WITH ADDITIONAL RESOURCES
It is a great idea to send some useful follow-up information to your new patients. Include information that is relevant to the patient, which they can read and digest in their own time.
Build up a bank of informative blog posts or videos explaining a bit about each of the main conditions that you see. Ensure that the concepts are pitched at an appropriate level for your target patient audience. Then you can simply pick the one most relevant for each new patient, and send it though to them.
Although the article or video itself may not be personalised, the fact that you handpicked it for your patient will definitely not go unnoticed.
I can’t wait for the day when I hear a non-medical person explaining their health condition to their friend better I could explain it myself. Only then will I know that we, as a health society, are winning the battle against the curse of knowledge, and are creating an army of health advocates in the process.
So remember, jargon is for your peers, not for your patients (customers).
As for eavesdropping…well that’s optional.