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A Few Tips Can Often Make the Difference When Talking to People about Their Health

People tend to assume that everyone around them has the same level of literacy. This doesn’t just apply to reading and writing one’s native language either. It goes across specific literacy in almost any advanced subject. To be sure, a doctor or nurse isn’t assuming an equal level of medical knowledge in the average person. But they do tend to vastly overestimate just how much the average person knows about medicine. This is true for most other professions as well.

The main difference is that there’s little immediate danger from someone not knowing very much about engineering or fine art. One won’t become terminally ill from mislabeling something as indicative of cubism for example. The same can’t be said for medical issues. However, there are three general tips which can help medical professionals communicate some basic health ideas to the public.

Try not to assume too much

One should begin by leaving all assumptions behind. Don’t assume any knowledge or lack of it when talking to someone for the first time. People are generally quick to openly discuss an important topic. Let their style lead the discussion. If they express understanding of medical terminology than one can use it as well. But if they don’t use such terminology than it’s important to match their style of speech.

It should be a learning experience for both parties

Next, be sure to talk with someone rather than talking to them. This might seem like the same thing at first. But this is where a lot of miscommunication comes up. We’re all part of the same larger culture. As such we tend to assume that everyone has the same basic lifestyle. However, there’s often an immense amount of variation by subculture.

The life of someone in the city and the country are often quite divergent. It’s easy to assume that if someone isn’t attending to an issue in the way one expects that it might indicate unwillingness to do so.

For example, someone in the city can probably receive a flu shot fairly easily. As such, a person in that setting will usually attend to it fairly quickly if they intend to do so at all. In rural settings one often needs to drive a considerable distance to get a flu shot. As such it needs more careful planning.

If someone hasn’t received one yet it would suggest to someone in the city that the rural person doesn’t intend to get a shot. But on talking to them about it one will see that it’s an error of assumptions. This is just one example among many. But it highlights why it’s important to ask questions of each other and learn from the results. Someone coming in to teach about health literacy will often learn just as much about life in different environments.

Keep individuals in mind but look at the larger picture

Finally, remember that every person is different. But one can usually see trends among people as a whole. This is because behavior when averaged over groups will indicate predisposition. For example, reconsider the earlier example of flu shots.

Someone might go into an area where the vaccination rates held to around 30% for the past five years. In any random crowd it’s probable that most people don’t intend to get a vaccination that year. But to go back to assumptions, one can’t assume that any random person is going to skip getting vaccinated.

One should also keep the earlier tip about communication in mind. One shouldn’t simply come in and tell people how wrong they are about any given issue. The main reason is that nobody can be certain about why individuals may or may not perform any given action. In talking to people one can often find explanations for behaviors which seem to suggest medical illiteracy.

Discussions about health literacy are vitally important. It’s always equally vital that one treat it with that level of respect. Even brief discussions or lectures can end up saving people’s lives further down the line.