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Common medical conditions in plain speak

1 August 2007


Background: The book "Common Medical Conditions in Plain Speak" resulted from . my experiences working as a P A student with underserved populations where patient knowledge of their own anatomy and health were minimal. It was a struggle to get . concepts across about diseases to populations who read on a 5th-8th grade level. An Mb Consult article 0n health literacy recently stated-that most English speaking U.S. adults read at an 8th grade level. 20% below it 5th grade level. Yet most healthcare materials are written at a 10th grade level. In most of the community clinics I worked in, the majority of the patient population had never completed high school, so finding ways to explain diseases in layman terms became extremely important. I often caught myself and observed other medical professionals using medical terms & explanations that were outside the patient's realm of understanding; A non-compliant patient of mine who had significant hypertension said, "But I don't feel sick. Why should I take this pill every day?" I had all this medical terminology floating around in my head as I started to explain using words like "blood vessels" and "hypertension"; I was rewarded with a blank stare. I realized I had to be able to explain what high blood pressure was in a language he could relate to. So I used an analogy I had heard Shane Maillard PA-C, (Pacific Alum) give describing the heart as a pump, arteries as pipes that deliver blood to your body, and blood pressure being the pressure your heart had to pump against which can eventually tire out your pump / heart. (See full analogy in book) I could see the light bulb go "on" in my patient's head. He thanked me happily and said it was the first time he'd actually understood what high blood pressure was. He agreed to take his medications.

Hypothesis: A patient's Jack of knowledge about their own medical condition adds to lack of involvement in their care, limited understanding of preventative services and treatment instructions, which contributes to poor health outcomes.1

Methods: The medical conditions for this book were chosen based on common chronic diseases and conditions that were frequently presented during my clinical rotation experience as a P A student Goals: 1) To provide a tool that addresses the communication gap that often exists between patients and practitioner by creating simple descriptions of common diseases. 2) To increase patient health literacy and compliance. By helping a patient understand their medical condition and the risks associated with it, hopefully that will encourage compliance to treatment. 3) Knowledge is power. Understanding encourages questions that lead to more understanding and control over one's own health outcome.


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