Best Practices for Clear Communication

Cliff Coleman, MD

Cliff Coleman, MD

Cliff Coleman, MD, described the importance of taking a “universal precautions” approach to healthcare. With this approach, one assumes that patients of all educational levels may misunderstand a document. For this reason, it’s best to use plain language to communicate health information to all patients.

This “universal precautions” approach starkly contrasts with the current healthcare culture, which places the burden of understanding on the patient.

Dr. Coleman commented that the healthcare system is set up to reward health professionals for poor communication.

Dr. Coleman went over best practice approaches for clear verbal communication. He highlighted some of his “must-knows” for attendees. These included knowing that patients may have different priorities than the healthcare provider. He also encouraged attendees to focus on no more than 3 “need to know” items, avoid medical jargon, and other tips.

Dr. Coleman ended his lecture by stating: “In 2010, half of the medical schools taught health literacy on average for only about 3 to 4 hours throughout the 4-year program. However, in residency programs, approximately 300 hours were devoted solely to communication on average. Although we still have a long way to go and much work to be done, we can take comfort in the fact that we have taken our first few baby steps.”

Using Social Media to Promote Your Organization and Health Literacy

Samuel Pettyjohn, MPH

Samuel Pettyjohn, MPH

Sam Pettyjohn’s session focused on promoting your organization through social media. Participants learned steps to take as they incorporated social media into their own organization.

Pettyjohn started the session with introductions and a general overview of all of the different types of social media that are now available to organizations. The focus then shifted to sharing good and bad examples of social media use out in the field. After sharing examples from the group, participants were given time to work on planning their own social media efforts when they returned to their organization.

How to Write for a Low Literacy Audience

Michael Villaire, MSLM

Michael Villaire, MSLM

Michael Villaire set the tone for the conference with a hands-on, fundamental session of how to write for a low literacy audience to accomplish the goal of improving health literacy and understanding. He began his session by explaining the key point when writing for a low literacy audience: “For a message to be readable, understandable, and comprehensible you must remove the barriers for poor readers. Removing the barriers increases the likelihood that the reader will get the message.”

There are many avenues by which poor readers can be challenged. These challenges are compounded by typical document problems, such as high reading levels, too many words, jargon, formal style, passive writing, long sentences, and either no visuals or inappropriate graphics. 

Villaire then provided attendees with tools to help overcome these challenges.
Attendees broke into groups to rewrite sample documents from a 9th grade reading level to a 3rd- to 5th-grade level. Groups presented their rewritten documents to the class and were given feedback on the rewrites.