Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Health Professionals: These Are the "Words to Watch"

The National Patient Safety Foundation in America has recognised that many problems arise when communication breaks down between patients and health professionals. They have made a list of types of language that health professionals use which may be confusing or offensive to patients; and which risks alienating them.
You can download a PDF about this research here: Words to Watch.
The Prolapse Information Project has previously highlighted the importance in language choice when discussing prolapse here: Prolapse After Childbirth: Common Not Normal.
If you have a busy practice it may seem like you don't have the time to police the language you use. You may also feel as if you shouldn't have to 'coddle' your adult patients. However, good communication is vital to an effective health practice; and taking into account the way your words will affect the person you are speaking to is a cornerstone of good communication.
A manageable approach may be to concentrate on one area of language at a time: medical words, concept words, category words, or value judgement words. Look at the list and see if you use some of the words on there, and try to use the suggested alternatives instead. You could even ask you patients for feedback about the clarity of your communication.
When talking specifically about prolapse, here are some terms to consider:
"Take it easy"/"Don't overdo it" - these are both very ambiguous. Consider using more specific language like "Don't lift anything that makes you strain to pick it up", or "Take a rest by lying down for 15 minutes if the feeling of pressure becomes too strong".
"Weakness" - women are often told that they have "vaginal weakness" or "pelvic floor weakness". While you mean this in a medical sense, remember that to your patients this is a negative value judgement. Consider instead explaining the condition in terms of an injury, or by saying that a stronger pelvic floor might help them manage their symptoms.
Reconsider using the phrase "nothing can be done" (usually when referring to a mild or moderate prolapse), when you actually mean "Unless you have bothersome symptoms, this degree of prolapse doesn't require treatment."
Using specific, emotionally sensitive language will help to foster better relationships with your patients and make them more involved in managing their health conditions, including prolapse.

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