[lg policy] Are we speaking the same language? The problem with medical jargon

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Thu Jul 29 14:33:01 UTC 2010

Are we speaking the same language? The problem with medical jargon

Today, many families are struggling not only with the cost of and
access to health care, but also with the quality of care they receive.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “Taking Medical Jargon
Out of Doctor Visits”, articulates an incredibly important issue that
sometimes gets swept under the rug in the talk about cost and quality
of care: patient health literacy. According to the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, about nine out of 10 adults find it hard to
follow routine medical advice, mostly because they don’t understand
what their care providers are saying. The complex instructions and
jargon that doctors use make patients more likely to skip necessary
medical tests or not take their medication as prescribed. This
confusion leads to poorer health outcomes and increased health care
costs currently estimated at $238 billion a year.

There is a common assumption that lack of health literacy is limited
to racial and ethnic minority populations. While these populations are
disproportionately affected by low health literacy, according to a
report from the National Patient Safety Foundation, Low Health
Literacy: Implications for National Health Policy, the majority of
people with low health literacy skills are white. Older people, recent
immigrants and those with chronic conditions are likely to have low
health literacy, as well. Of particular note from the WSJ article is
the federal strategy around health literacy entitled the National
Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy. The plan seeks to engage
organizations, professionals, policymakers, communities, individuals,
and families in a linked, multi-sector effort to improve health

We are headed in the right direction. However, there is still a
fundamental need for greater change in the health care system –
particularly in the areas of how care is delivered and paid for – if
we are truly to achieve better access to quality, affordable care. As
our population grows older and larger, the impact on the health
outcomes of patients and the costs to the health care system will only
increase. These problems are compounded by the lack of care
coordination for those with multiple chronic illnesses. People with
multiple chronic diseases have increased interaction with the health
care system, leading to more opportunities for confusion surrounding
their medical care – which is in turn influenced by the number of
doctors they see and what they hear from their doctors.

An older person with five or more chronic conditions (e.g. diabetes,
hypertension, heart disease, arthritis, obesity), has an average of 37
doctor visits, 14 different doctors, and 50 separate prescriptions
each year. How incredibly confusing would it be for that person to
manage his or her own health? Older adults and their caregivers should
be full partners in their care, and they should be provided with the
information and support to manage their conditions so they can make
informed health care decisions.

With the advent of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
(PPACA), the Campaign for Better Care, led by the National Partnership
for Women and Families, Community Catalyst and the National Health Law
Program, is working to ensure the needs of older adults and their
families are highlighted and addressed.Helping patients and providers
communicate effectively with each other will be a crucial component to
the quality of care that patients receive. The Campaign’s national
consumer coalition has developed a “Yardstick” for Better Care, which
identifies key elements of patient-centered practice for inclusion in
new models of care

The Campaign for Better Care hosted a public event today in
Washington, D.C. – the “Building Better Care” forum – and the forum
webcast will be available online Friday. Special guests included
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, award-winning author Gail Sheehy, UCLA
Geriatrics Division Chief David Reuben, journalist and activist
Jonathan Rauch, HHS Director of Delivery System Reform Peter Lee, and
more. To learn more about these issues and how the Campaign is
tackling them please visit www.campaingforbettercare.org.

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