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Plain and Simple: Two Important Health Communication Concepts for Successful Chronic Care Management

Patients are empowered now more than ever before. A simple online search can instantly deliver answers to everyday health and chronic disease questions, and the use of social networking sites (such as Facebook) provide a platform for individuals to share how they cope with chronic conditions.

Today, connectivity has become a modern necessity and patients expect “instant gratification” when they interact with their healthcare provider. They want the information fast, easy and delivered in a way that suits their lifestyle. If a provider cannot meet that need, they will find the information elsewhere. In fact, in 2015, half of smartphone owners used their phones to get health information and nearly 77% of internet users began their health information search online (using Bing, Yahoo or Google). Credibility and accuracy aside, online health and chronic disease information is also easy to understand, clear, and to the point. Plain and simple language, according to the National Institutes of Health, is grammatically correct, easy to understand, and delivered in a way that helps the user act on that information right away. Plain and simple communication is the fundamental building block of sustained behavior change and improved chronic care management. Without it, patients (even if the desire is there), will not know how to make the necessary changes to improve their well-being. Also, plain and simple language can save time and money by mitigating:

  • Missed prevention opportunities (mammograms, colorectal exams, flu shots)
  • Over-utilization of medical services
  • Missed appointments & cancelled procedures
  • Lack of medication adherence

As you plan your written (print and online) communication, consider your audience and think about how your message could help, or hinder, in their success as a patient. The effectiveness of plain and simple communication for chronic care management is dependent on using these 4 key principles:

  • State exactly what you want the patient to know about the subject or condition.
  • Before giving important information, put it into context.
  • Breakdown complex instructions (bullets points and imagery are useful).
  • Make it interactive. Create opportunities for patients to click on, write down, send, or share your information.

Effective communication should build bridges and not barriers. When communicating with your population, take into account cultural cues, literacy limitations, the type of channel the patient is used to, and their capacity for learning. The National Institutes of Health offers some great tools that will help you get started creating materials with plain and simple language.

Need help communicating with your population? Learn about Health Dialog’s shared decision making program.

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