Using all the right words, with all the wrong people.

Welcome back everyone. As you should already know its health literacy month and today something dawned on me as I read an article in the recent edition of the WOCN Journal*; when it comes to health literacy maybe it’s more of a difference in communication rather than a literacy issue. For example, when a patient calls us we ask him if his doctor is aware of his incontinence. Many times that patient will respond in confusion with “incontinence, what do you mean? I’m calling because I keep having accidents in my bed at night”.

The patient isn’t wrong in his terminology and neither are we.

But, as healthcare providers and caregivers it is our responsibility to meet the patient in their environment and make them feel confident and comfortable talking about these issues with us. If we are constantly correcting them or using terminology they don’t understand, then they may be less likely to talk to us about their health problems. This will only lead to greater health illiteracy.

So lesson learned. We’re going to start right here making a push towards the “straight talk” that caregivers and patients say they want. Admittedly, urinary incontinence is a sensitive and
embarrassing topic. And clinical sounding words are a nice way of distancing yourself, of depersonalizing the problem. Not anymore – the WOCN study gave us a lot of ideas about how you talk about bladder issues – and we’re going to use these moving forward!

Here are a couple of the highlights:

instead of incontinence, how about: “having accidents, leaking, losing control, wetting or messing their pants, having a urine problem, urgency, being unable to hold it and not getting there in time”

And instead of complications, let’s talk about skin that is “rashy, pimply, pink or red, blotchy, inflamed, irritated, chapped or chaffed, dry and cracking, thinning, broken skin, bleeding, sore, raw and excoriated.”

The next step is encouraging health care providers to be more proactive in inquiring about the existence of incontinence and the skin damage that can occur as a result. And of course, we’re going to continue to encourage caregivers to be more proactive in bringing incontinence issues to the attention of their loved one’s healthcare provider immediately and independently looking for solutions.

Many caregivers would give their right arm for a reliable way to reduce their laundry pile and forget about stains on furniture. However, most are unaware of all the options that are available to them and even fewer use the internet to look for this information. This has to change.

So join us, and take a step in the right direction this month.

No more finger pointing over incorrect terminology. Let’s work together to give the patients what they want and need. Let’s ask more questions, listen more, and have engaging conversations. Health literacy isn’t a one way road filled with uninformed patients; it’s a roundabout with no lights where healthcare providers, patients, and caregivers meet. And they need to adapt to differences in communication in order to make it to their destinations.

As always thanks for reading. Do you have other terms we should use? Do you have a story as patient, caregiver, or healthcare provider that you would like to share? Feel free to leave your comments.


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