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ADVANCE Perspective: Physical Therapy & Rehab Medicine

Do You Promote Health Literacy?

Published May 7, 2010 11:08 AM by Cheryl McEvoy

Do you suffer from medical mouth? It's a common condition that crops up in exam rooms and around clinician offices. Symptoms include chronic bouts of medical terminology and spontaneous reference to inaccessible research. Side effects include reduced verbal feedback and increased risk of patient disengagement.

When speaking with patients, language makes all the difference--and while high-flatulent language sounds impressive, it may flop on outcomes. It's a matter of learning when to "watch your mouth," and it looks like clinicians are catching on.

On April 29, the Center for Plain Language announced its first annual ClearMark Awards, recognizing websites and documents that are simple and easy to understand. The Grand Prize winner wasn't a do-it-yourself guide or a children's site, but a document called "Conversation on Dealing With Lower Back Pain," from Healthwise, a non-profit that produces consumer-based content to help people make better health decisions. I haven't seen the document, but it wowed judges with its simple, straightforward approach--and it's something physical therapists may want to mimic.

Just a day later, the Institute for Healthcare Advancement named three winners of its Health Literacy Awards, including an educational program that promotes awareness and prevention of cardiovascular disease. The program uses CARDIO as an acronym for "Creating A Real Dialogue In the Office"--a reminder that patients should talk with doctors to learn about their cardiovascular risk and maximize the benefits of treatment plans. It's a clever approach, and a lot more appealing than a droning list of signs and symptoms.

The health literacy movement--a whole-hearted effort to lift the fog around health conditions--seems to be making strides, but how does your practice measure up? Next week, we'll give you some strategies to keep jargon at bay, plus a few other things to consider when tailoring your talks with patients in "Cultural Awareness: The Three E's of Therapy." In the meantime, check out our Patient Handouts for simple ways to educate patients on conditions and therapy options. You can even print and distribute the handouts to help your patients get a better grasp of their health needs.

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