What Methods Help Physicians Communicate Complex Medical Information to Patients?

    Authored By

    Doctors Magazine

    What Methods Help Physicians Communicate Complex Medical Information to Patients?

    Communicating complex medical information in a patient-friendly manner is crucial for healthcare professionals. We gathered insights from Physicians to Nurse Practitioners on their most effective methods. From explaining medical decisions in lay terms to personalizing data with storytelling and examples, discover the ten strategies these experts use to ensure patients understand their health information.

    • Explain Medical Decisions in Lay Terms
    • Simplify Information to Patient Literacy Level
    • Use Visual Aids for Better Understanding
    • Employ Metaphors for Patient Comprehension
    • Summarize and Provide Information Packets
    • Engage Patients with Call-and-Repeat Technique
    • Utilize Visual Aids for Clarity
    • Encourage Two-Way Conversational Communication
    • Reinforce Points with Supplementary Materials
    • Personalize Data with Storytelling and Examples

    Explain Medical Decisions in Lay Terms

    I often find it helpful to communicate the reasons behind my medical decisions by explaining the reasoning in nonmedical terms that can be easily understood by laypeople. It takes only a few sentences, but it seems to be appreciated and helps with compliance, as I work with older patients and attempt to address as many of their concerns as possible without resorting to medications. I find it helpful to end by pleasantly summarizing my instructions with a smile and saying, 'That is your prescription for today,' e.g., walk more, get more sleep, and so on.

    Henry TrippPhysician, Eventus Whole Health

    Simplify Information to Patient Literacy Level

    It is important to tailor the delivery of complex medical information to the level of medical literacy of the patient. It is best to simplify the diagnosis and treatment options as much as possible and reduce medical jargon when practical.

    Shervin Oskouei, MdOrthopedic Surgeon, Emory Healthcare

    Use Visual Aids for Better Understanding

    Assessing complex medical jargon is just like reflecting a mirror image of your patient, giving what they can truly understand. And I know that humans have been more into visual memory since their childhood. Hence, I prefer giving my patients charts and pictorial pieces to translate complex medical terms into pictures for better understanding.

    For instance, when recommending warfarin to patients, I prefer labeling the restricted foods and medicines row as red, the occasionally taken ones as yellow, and the safe ones as green. In this way, the patient clearly remembers the no-nos with foods and drugs, especially those having a low therapeutic index.

    I also verbally break down my prescription terms to the patients and ask them to repeat my words for a follow-up, ensuring their understanding for confirmation.

    Nabil Salib
    Nabil SalibUrgent Care Specialist, MyDoc Urgent Care

    Employ Metaphors for Patient Comprehension

    Effectively communicating complex medical information to patients hinges on the art of metaphor. Employing relatable imagery is vital for bridging the gap between medical jargon and patient comprehension. I utilize metaphors to unravel intricate concepts, enabling patients to connect what they already understand with unfamiliar medical territory.

    By crafting metaphors tailored to the individual's experiences, patients not only comprehend their conditions better but are empowered to ask pertinent questions. This paves the way for informed decision-making regarding treatment options. Metaphors serve as a communicative bridge, allowing patients to extend their understanding beyond the immediate context and explore the broader implications of their health.

    In essence, the strategic use of metaphors becomes a catalyst for meaningful conversations. It transforms complex medical details into digestible narratives, fostering a shared understanding between physician and patient. This approach acknowledges the importance of patient autonomy, encouraging them to actively participate in decisions about their health. Using metaphors demystifies medical intricacies and makes the journey toward well-informed and collaborative healthcare decisions more accessible for every patient.

    Elisha Peterson Md Med Faap Fasa
    Elisha Peterson Md Med Faap FasaAnesthesiologist and Pain Medicine Physician, Elisha Peterson MD PLLC

    Summarize and Provide Information Packets

    Conveying complex medical information to patients isn’t the easiest job, especially given the spectrum of understanding that differs across patients. The best way that I share complex medical information with patients is to give a quick summary at the beginning, go through each point separately, and give a summary at the end of my conversation.

    I’ve learned, especially in the addiction and recovery industry, that some patients quickly pick up what you’re trying to tell them, while others need a little more time to digest and comprehend. Properly digesting information is encouraged, so if it takes a little bit longer and there are more questions, a doctor should absolutely take the time to walk them through the information.

    I have also found that giving them a packet full of information, including the transcription of what I shared with them, can help patients follow along. It also gives them something to reference later, and sometimes retaining information in the office or over the phone takes time. The more information a patient has at their disposal, the better off they will be in absorbing the information.

    Dr Lea Mcmahon
    Dr Lea McmahonChief Clinical Officer, Symetria Recovery

    Engage Patients with Call-and-Repeat Technique

    One of the best ways to communicate complex medical information to patients is by asking the patient to repeat what you said, or even to show you an example of what you have explained.

    These moments can be a bit awkward, so it is important you approach them in a manner that feels engaging, rather than like you're scolding the patient.

    Saying something like 'Let's go over that again to make sure we're on the same page' is far more supportive than simply saying 'Repeat back to me what I just told you.'

    Call-and-repeat is a powerful tool for memory, so when you are talking about really important things like medical advice, you want to make sure you are using the best technique possible.

    Hearing the patient repeat what you've told them allows you to see if there is any missed information, rather than just relying on their promise that they understood everything you said.

    Ashley Murry
    Ashley MurryChief Clinical Officer, Sana Lakes Recovery

    Utilize Visual Aids for Clarity

    As a Clinical Outreach Specialist at Driftwood Recovery, one of my main tasks is to effectively communicate complex medical information to patients. In my experience, one method that has been extremely effective is using visual aids such as diagrams, pictures, and videos.

    These visual aids help break down complex information into more digestible and understandable pieces for patients. I have found that many patients struggle with reading and comprehending lengthy written materials but are able to grasp the same information more easily when presented in a visual format.

    Jesse Mccraw
    Jesse MccrawDirector of Business Development, Driftwood Recovery

    Encourage Two-Way Conversational Communication

    Two-Way Communication: To have successful communication, I believe that it is essential to initiate a conversation with patients that goes in both directions. I encourage patients to feel comfortable expressing their concerns and asking questions. When they ask questions or express concerns, you should actively listen to them and then respond with thoughtfulness and empathy. Ensure that patients properly comprehend the medical information that is being provided to them; this not only helps patients feel heard and respected, but it also helps them feel important. To stimulate conversation and determine the extent of their comprehension, you should ask them open-ended questions.

    Arun Ghosh
    Arun GhoshDirector, Ghosh Medical Group

    Reinforce Points with Supplementary Materials

    One method I've used to effectively communicate complex medical information to patients is to use supplementary materials, such as diagrams, charts, or videos, to illustrate and reinforce the key points. I find that visual aids can help patients grasp and remember the concepts better than words alone, especially when the information is unfamiliar or abstract. For example, when I explain the mechanism of action of a new medication, I show the patient a diagram of how the drug interacts with the cells and molecules in the body, and how it affects the disease process. I also use videos that demonstrate the proper use of the medication, such as how to inject it or inhale it, and what to do in case of side effects. I make sure that the materials are clear, accurate, and relevant, and that they match the patient's level of health literacy and language preference. I also encourage the patient to ask questions and to review the materials at home or with their family or caregivers.

    Trent Carter
    Trent CarterNurse Practitioner, Founder, Curednation

    Personalize Data with Storytelling and Examples

    In my practice as a plastic and reconstructive surgeon, communicating complex medical information effectively is vital. I've found that utilizing specific examples from my experiences, backed by concrete data and harnessing the power of storytelling, significantly enhances understanding. For instance, when discussing the benefits and procedures of anesthesia in plastic surgery, I draw from my comprehensive work on anesthesia types and the pros and cons of each. This not only demystifies the complex decision-making process behind choosing an anesthesia type but also personalizes the information to the patient's unique health profile and surgical needs.

    I also employ the 'No-Touch Technique' in breast augmentation as a case study to illustrate the meticulous attention to detail required in surgery to minimize risks like infection and capsular contracture. By explaining the technical aspects of using the Keller Funnel and the rationale behind it, patients gain a deeper understanding of the procedure’s safety measures. This approach not only educates but also builds trust and confidence between me and my patients, making it an essential tool in my practice. The incorporation of visual aids and analogies, when explaining procedures or potential post-operative care like scar management, further aids in breaking down medical jargon into comprehensible language that resonates on a personal level with my patients.

    Dr. Kristopher M. Day, Md, Facs
    Dr. Kristopher M. Day, Md, FacsOwner, Pacific Sound Plastic Surgery