Physician to patient communication is an integral part of clinical practice. On a daily basis, physicians are required to simplify their language and use common words to explain very complex concepts to patients. This is not an easy task since they function in a world full of medical jargon and acronyms.
Recently, a patient’s daughter related how a physician explained what would be done to her father during non-invasive focused ultrasound treatment for essential tremor. She blurted out that the physician had told her father that they would be burning a hole in his brain. Both she and her father were VERY distressed and now unsure that this was the treatment option they wanted to pursue.
Focused ultrasound is indeed thermal ablation and yes it does ablate, or burn a very precise target (for essential tremor, this target is the Vim nucleus of the thalamus). However, was this description, albeit accurate, the appropriate language to explain the procedure to a patient? Most concerning was that the simplified language used did not assure the patient but actually elevated their uncertainty and anxiety.
Communication with patients about medical procedures needs to be informative and accurate, but should also reduce their apprehension about the procedure.
At Insightec, we are currently developing an interactive tool for physicians to explain the Neuravive procedure for essential tremor to patients. If we use the same example, here is how we explained the procedure:
“During the procedure, ultrasound waves pass through the skull and are focused on a specific target in the brain. The temperature at the target rises high enough to create a tiny ablation, or burn and provide a therapeutic effect, reducing the hand tremor.”
In AMA’s Health literacy: can your patients understand you? (2007), the author recommends avoiding medical jargon when explaining to patients. Furthermore, the well- known adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words”, is also highly relevant. The author suggests showing pictures to enhance patients’ understanding as well as recall.
In our interactive tool, we wrote the script in simple, plain language and use cartoon-like animations to explain what the patient will be going through during each step of the procedure. By combining simple visuals together with a script based on plain language, our hope is that patients will understand the procedure and alleviate their fears. View one of the animations here.
We are now discussing whether clinicians will prefer using this as a downloadable APP to show a patient on a tablet or as a flipbook.
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