Breakthrough Patient Recruitment

: Communicating in a Changing Health Care Landscape

Communicating in a Changing Health Care Landscape

Global Content Strategist

In the United States, people go to the doctor's office. Often. For all kinds of reasons. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 2009 and 2010, there were 1.2 billion visits to physician offices, hospital outpatient, and emergency departments.


People living in the United States come from all over the world, and they come from all kinds of cultural, linguistic, and political backgrounds. Although English is the prevalent language, health care providers treat patients who speak Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, French, Vietnamese, German, Korean, Russian, Arabic, Hindi, Persian, Gujarati, Cambodian, and many other languages.


Most importantly, people who come from different countries also bring with them their experience with different health care systems. And while participating in the system of this country, they may lack essential pieces of information when it comes to procedures and their health status.


Given that people in the United States seem to require a lot of care, and in light of the country's constantly changing demographics and culture, being a health literacy hero is crucial. Communicating in plain language is hard when two people come from the same background and both speak the same language. So imagine how hard it is when two people don't share a cultural reference and cannot speak the same language! And all of this comes into play at a doctor's office ...


Here are some tips for health literacy heroes-both health care providers and patients-to keep in mind:


Ask Questions, the Right Way


Asking questions is not a common occurrence across cultures of the world. Sometimes, questioning is perceived as a push back or disrespect, especially when it comes to physician-patient relationship. But don't shy away! Questions save lives.


Ask one question at a time. Avoid posing double questions such as, "Do you want to carry on or should we stop here?" In a cross cultural situation, the listener may only comprehend one question.


Check and Double Check


The easiest way to minimize the challenges of intercultural communication at a doctor's office is to check and double check. Assumptions cannot drive decision making! Whether agreeing to something or providing instructions, a moment spent double checking that the physician and patient understand the communication can have a huge impact on health care outcomes.


Write Things Down


Sometimes people who do not speak English as their mother tongue will read more proficiently than they speak. It is a good idea to always write things down as a backup.


Listen up


In any communication encounter, listening is key, and that is particularly true for intercultural exchanges. Listening is much more than hearing. Listening well involves filtering out distractions, focusing your attention on what another person is saying, making sure you really understand the message, interpreting the message, and responding appropriately. Indeed, listening well is a lot of work, but it is essential to effective intercultural communication.


So, as the doctor's office visits continue to increase and communicating with people from many different backgrounds becomes even more of a necessity, let's focus on the importance of being a health literacy hero. Change can be hard, but with patience, we can communicate effectively in this quickly changing health care landscape.


This is part 5 of the Healthyist's series on Health Literacy. For more on our thoughts on health literacy, read part 1, Let's Be Health Literacy Heroes, This Month and Always, part 2,  Are We Thinking Clearly About Health Literacy?, part 3, Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus: Differences in Conversational Styles Between the Sexes and What it Means for Health Communications, and part 4, The Heart of Health Literacy: Motivating People to Act.


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We invite and encourage anyone interested in current public health and health communication trends and issues to join MMG's contributing bloggers in adding their voice to the ongoing discussion about how we can advance health, together.


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