According to the American Medical Association’s subcommittee on health literacy, only 35% of physicians know anything about literacy in America.
Which means that nearly two-thirds of doctors don’t know that 22% of adult Americans are functionally illiterate and another 27.5% of adult Americans are only marginally literate. In other words, nearly half (49.5%) of all adult Americans are less than fully literate. Which makes your job even more challenging, particularly in how you communicate with your patients and with potential new patients.
Newspapers, which are generally written for fifth graders, have known this sad fact about American literacy for decades. So, have the healthcare marketing experts at Practice Builders. In fact, we frequently send the text we write for our clients through the Flesch-Kincaid Readability formula (it’s built into Microsoft WORD) to ensure that we are in the 6th to 7th grade reading range on our patient-directed materials (slightly higher for referrer-directed materials).
What patients don’t understand can kill them
The clear message is that doctors and patients don’t speak or read at the same levels. Though the average American can’t read beyond the 7th grade level, most medical forms, instructions and other patient-directed materials are written to the 12th grade level. Such a disparity can be dangerous to the patient’s health. Patients with limited literacy tend to seek care later (if at all) and have a harder time following instructions. They are more likely to suffer from medication errors, and they have higher death rates from chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. As marketers, physicians need to avoid high-level clinical language in their messages to patients, whether they are written or spoken. For example, don’t tell the patient he has had a myocardial infarction when “heart attack” is more easily understood. Use car or machine analogies to explain various body parts and conditions. For example, the human heart is like a “pump” and the kidneys are like “filters”.
For more advice about communicating effectively with your patients, talk to one of the experts at Practice Builders at 800.679.1262.