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Should you need an ‘ology’ to be an informed patient?

Mathew Cutts   |   
9 October 2018

The importance of health literacy seems to be gaining more traction to the extent that it has it’s own dedicated month. But who is responsible in ensuring patients not only understand their condition but are also treated correctly? Well actually, far more people than you probably think, and not just bodies like the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges who recently made the news telling doctors to use language that patients understand.

This is an area that the team here at Cuttsy+ Cuttsy consider every day when working alongside our clients to develop patient materials. It’s not just the obvious things that need attention, such as the use of language, colours, font sizes and clarity of graphics, it goes much further than that. For example, have you considered what a patient’s dexterity is like? Apologies for my use of non-health literate language used here, but translated into plain English…what I mean is… how does the disease effect the ability of a patient to grip a page and what can we do to make it easier?

Just getting to see a healthcare professional (HCP), a doctor or nurse for those who want the plain English version, can also have its barriers. For example, let’s take a simple visit to a hospital for a blood test. First of all, you are usually given a form from your GP with some ticked boxes next to a series of letters that only google can decipher, which can send you into a blind panic.

After arriving at the hospital, your first test is to find the car park that you are allowed to park in. Once out of your car, you then enter the hospital and scan the signs to find out which direction to go in. Can you see “blood tests” anywhere? No! Only Urology, Neurology, Pathology, Haematology…ahhh!

Like Maureen Lipman once famously said if you get an ‘ology’ you’re a scientist but you’re not are you? This is exactly the point! You shouldn’t be made to feel like you need to be a scientist to understand what your doctor is telling you to get the support and treatment you need.

Although there are advances in health literacy being made we still have some way to go, and to go back to my original question who is responsible? I believe we all are. Everyone who is connected to healthcare, be it architects, town planners, communications agencies, biotech and pharma companies, pharmacies, clinical trial recruitment specialists… the list goes on.

So next time you undertake a task that eventually touches a patient, put yourself in their shoes and ask will they understand this easily and most importantly, will it help them get better care?