Posts Tagged ‘Teaching’

Teach Back as an Effective Patient Education Tool

June 26, 2014


by Edward Leigh, MA

A patient tells you they understand everything you said about their treatment plan.  You feel good about this patient visit and are ready to close the meeting.  The patient stated they understood, but did they really?

Problem with “Do you understand?” question

There are serious issues associated with the question, “Do you understand?”  Just because the patient says, “Yes,” does not mean they truly understand.  How can you be sure they understand? Use the powerful “teach back” method.

Teach back is a powerful communication tool to assess a patient’s understanding. After the professional shares new medical information with the patient, the patient is asked to “teach back” what they just heard, verbally or in the form of a demonstration. This allows the professional to correct misunderstandings and provide additional information, if necessary. (In some cases, the patient’s caregiver may be the person “teaching back” the information.)

Factors to consider

If the teach back strategy is not properly set up it could actually backfire leading to a worse patient experience.

Patients may feel you are questioning their intellectual abilities. I have interviewed thousands of patients regarding their experiences with healthcare professionals.  For example, I asked one patient if she was familiar with teach back. She stated she was not familiar with the strategy. She also asked, “Is that for people with learning disabilities?” Upon further discussion, she said if a healthcare professional asked her to repeat back what she heard, she would feel that they think of her as dumb. This example illustrates that the set up to the discussion is critical.  It is vital that patients know the strategy is useful for everyone.

This strategy is not a like a pop quiz you had in school. Don’t simply tell a patient, “Repeat back what I just said!”  This comment will put them on the spot and cause anxiety.  They will feel like a school kid who was just told to clear their desk for an unannounced pop quiz.

To avoid these potential issues, ask the patient certain types of questions. View sample questions in the next section.

Sample of open-ended questions to assess understanding

There are many ways to assess patient understanding via teach back. The questions below provide a friendly and comfortable manner to assess understanding.

Focus on “I” Language. It is important to remember teach back is a way to test our abilities at explaining. In other words, we are actually testing ourselves, not the patients. Using “I” language takes the stress off the patient.

  • “I want to be sure I explained everything clearly. Can you explain it back to me so I can be sure I did?”
  • “Please show me how you will use the device, so I can be sure I have given you clear instructions.”

Focus on how they would tell other people in their lives.

  • “How would you describe your health condition to a friend?”
  • “When you get home and your spouse asks about your treatment plan – what will say?”

Possible reasons for patients not being able to teach back

If the patient is not able to repeat back their medical situation this may be an indication the professional needs to rework their teaching approaches. There could be several factors reducing the ability of a patient to teach back.

Excessive use of medical jargon. If patients do not understand what professionals are saying, they will not be able to repeat back what was said to them. Use everyday language.  For example, do not say, “NPO after midnight.” Rather, state, “Do not eat or drink anything after midnight.”

Too much information presented too quickly.  The “chunk & check” strategy is a tool to avoid this scenario. Provide a “chunk” of information and then “check” with the patient for understanding.

Patient anxiety.  Regardless of how skilled the professional is at explaining to the patient their medical situation, if the patient is very tense, the material will not be absorbed.  In this case, use empathy. Mention that you understand their feelings of anxiety.  You may want to engage in brief deep breathing exercises with the patient to help them feel calmer so they are better able to take in the information.  The exhale should be longer to achieve maximum relaxation. For example, inhale on a count of four and exhale on a count of six. A few deep breathes goes a long way!

If the patient was not able to repeat back, do not repeat – re-phrase.

Benefits of teach back

Improves outcomes. According to the Joint Commission, research indicates that the teach back technique is effective, not just for improving patients’ understanding, but also for improving outcomes. For example, patients with diabetes whose physicians assess their comprehension and recall with the teach back technique have significantly better diabetes control than patients whose physicians do not use the technique. (Schillinger D, et al. Closing the loop: physician communication with diabetic patients who have low health literacy. Arch Intern Med. 2003;163:83-90.)

Can ultimately save time. Professionals often feel they have no time for the teach back method.  It actually does not take very long to assess a patient’s understanding.  Think of how much time it will take if the patient has to call back or visit again.

Enhances patient safety. If a patient does not understand their medical issue, they are at risk. A patient’s medical situation is not nice-to-know information, it is need-to-know information!

Unity Point Health, Des Moines University and other organizations collaborated to develop an excellent Teach Back Toolkit.  Click on the link for more information on this very helpful toolkit.

After giving it – be sure they get it!


Edward Leigh, MA, is the Founder and Director of the Center for Healthcare Communication. The Center focuses on increasing patient satisfaction, improving compliance and decreasing the risk of medical errors. The Center offers high-impact training, consulting and one-on-one coaching. Edward Leigh’s new book, Engaging Your Patients, is due out in late 2014. or 1-800-677-3256


Effective Use of PowerPoint in Medical Presentations

February 12, 2014


by Edward Leigh, MA

During the morning break from an all-day physician workshop, a participant approached me (while smiling) and stated, “I’m angry at you!”  He then went on to say, “I come to these seminars and always sit in the back. I open up my laptop to get work done, but you made me listen. You made me work. This is the best seminar I have attended in I don’t know how long.”  I am not sharing this story so I could simply tell you how wonderful I am at presenting programs. Rather, I am sharing the story to reveal a significant problem in medical education. The red flag here is the dependence on PowerPoint as a teaching tool. Effective learning must be an active engaging process that stimulates the learners’ minds, not a passive process of simply looking at slides.

Before you create your first slide – answer this question.  What’s your point?  What are the goals of your session?  When I coach people on their presentation skills, I always ask this question, “A month from now, what  two to three points do you want people remember from your presentation?  I am talking about the big picture take home points.” People struggle with this question often telling me they have dozens of points.  Think about your big overall goals and build your slides from that information.

PowerPoint is ONE component of a dynamic presentation. In addition to the slides, we must have a great opening, powerful close, audience involvement and THE key attribute – enthusiasm! This is your subject and you must show your passion! PowerPoint is an aide to us, we are not an aide to it. The slides are part of our program, but they should never become THE program. You and your knowledge base are the stars of the show.  In the very unexpected event of the PowerPoint not working, could you still present your program and engage the audience?

Avoid all-text slide presentations. This scenario creates an uninspiring presentation that leads to audience boredom.  Incorporate photos and charts to make the program come alive.  Periodically, add graphic elements between text slides to keep the audience interested in your presentation. A medical student told me he attended a presentation by a visiting professor, who spoke in a monotone voice and had text-only slides. When the professor was done speaking, the audience didn’t clap at first because they didn’t realize he completed his presentation! When an audience is so tuned out they don’t realize a presentation is over, that’s really bad news!

6 x 6 rule.  No more than six lines per slide.  No more than six words per line.  It is important to think in terms of “less is more.”  Each slide should contain ONE main idea.  I have attended medical presentations in which the slides were so busy and complicated most audience members were completely baffled, which led to a lot of frustration.  When coaching people on their presentation skills, the biggest issue I find is information overload.

No one learns when they are sleeping. Providing the slides to audience members and then simply reading the slides verbatim is not only a poor educational tool, it is also incredibly tedious. While attending typical medical programs, I often look around at the audience. I see few people truly engaged. Many people looking are at their smart phones, reading something else, quietly talking to a neighbor, or worse, sleeping. Since the audience can read, the presenter is not necessary. The audience members could read the slides on their own. To be truly effective, speakers must bring something more to the presentation.

Moving from passive to active audience members.  Yes, you can engage audience members with PowerPoint!  This can be done in a variety of ways. Put a question on a slide and ask the audience to briefly discuss the question with a neighbor. Then ask for responses. Show a picture and ask the audience, “What is going on here?”  These very quick engagement tools perk up the audience! Go from dull to dazzling! When I incorporate questions in my slides, I do not put the answer in the written slides. They have to attend the session and listen to get the answer!

Be consistent with fonts, colors and backgrounds.  You want the audience to focus on your content, not your ever-changing visuals.  Also, the addition of animation and sound adds variety, but should not be used excessively. They key to an excellent presentation is balance. Also, be sure there is a significant contrast between the text color and the background color. For example, dark text on a dark background is very hard to read.

Use a text size of at least 24 point.  I prefer a font size of 28 to 32 for text and 36 to 44 for titles. Try this readability test; put your slides on the screen and stand in the back of the room in which you will be presenting. Can you read the slides? I have been to many presentations in which the speakers say, “I know you can’t read this, but …” If the audience can’t read it, don’t show it.

Arrive at the program venue early to check the slides.  It is important to arrive to a presentation location early for many reasons, including checking the AV equipment. Before the audience members arrive, check to be sure your slides are working properly.  Unfortunately, I have seen many presentations start with this statement, “Does anyone know how to work this?” As a backup, even if I email my slides to the meeting planner, I always carry the slides with me on a flash drive. It is also a good idea to arrive early to meet audience members; this is helpful to gain insight as to their needs / questions.  Through my pre-program chats, I have also received excellent ideas that I incorporated into the session. Audience members love this recognition! For example, I have stated, “Just before the program, I spoke to Steve who mentioned a great idea to help patients …” I have Steve waive his hand so the audience could acknowledge his great idea.

Separation of handout from slides. I speak at hundreds of medical conferences, and I am usually the only presenter that separates the slides from the handout. The handout is given to participants; the handout has all the information well organized into sections. The slides are highlights of key points, including graphics.  There are also surprise questions and mini quizzes. The audience is constantly engaged.  Granted, it takes more work to present in this manner.  However, it is time well spent since I know people are engaged and learning. We do what’s best for our audiences, not what’s easiest for us.

Make PowerPoint work for you to create memorable presentations. You are brilliant, you are the expert – that is the reason you are making the presentation. The spotlight should be on you and your vast knowledge, not the slides.


Edward Leigh, MA, is the Founder and Director of the Center for Healthcare Communication. The Center focuses on increasing patient satisfaction, improving compliance and decreasing the risk of medical errors. The Center offers high-impact training, consulting and one-on-one coaching. Edward Leigh’s new book, Engaging Your Patients, is due out in the Spring of 2014. or 1-800-677-3256

Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine Assesses Students Communication Skills Before Admitting

October 13, 2011

By Edward Leigh, MA

Have great grades?  Excel in science?  Thinking of medical school?  Think again!  Medical schools are now realizing that excellent academics are not enough to become a great doctor.  Communication skills and the ability to work in teams are vital.

Virginia Tech Carilion, located in Roanoke, Virginia, is one of the newest US medical schools (the school opened in August 2010).  Their medical school admission interviews go beyond the typical questions, “Why do you want to be a doctor?” The medical school has added a communication component to their admission interview process.  Great grades alone will not prepare prospective students for this part of the interview process; great “people skills” are needed.

Communication skills are more than “bedside manner.”  These skills also directly impact patient safety. According to the Joint Commission, “An estimated 80 percent of serious medical errors involve miscommunication between caregivers when patients are transferred or handed-off.”

This is how the medical school interview process incorporates communication skills:
• Candidates stand with their backs to doors.
• A bell rings and they turn around and read a sheet of paper taped to a door. The paper will have a scenario that requires communication and teamwork skills. (The school requests that the actual scenarios be kept secret.)
• After two minutes, the bell rings again and the candidate enters the room to discuss the ethical issue with an interviewer.
• The candidate has eight minutes to discuss that room’s issue. The interviewer scores each candidate with a number and sometimes a brief note.
• The process is then repeated several times.

The school administrators created questions that determine how well candidates think on their feet and their ability to work in teams. The interviews closely assess how well they respond when someone disagrees with them.  This is a critical skill in working with teams.

According to the school, “Candidates who jump to improper conclusions, fail to listen or are overly opinionated fare poorly because such behavior undermines teams. Those who respond appropriately to the emotional tenor of the interviewer or ask for more information do well in the new admissions process because such tendencies are helpful not only with colleagues but also with patients.”

“We are trying to weed out the students who look great on paper but haven’t developed the people or communication skills we think are important,” said Dr. Stephen Workman, associate dean for admissions and administration at Virginia Tech Carilion.

Dr. Harold Reiter, a professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, developed the system. He states, “Candidate scores on multiple mini interviews have proved highly predictive of scores on medical licensing exams three to five years later that test doctors’ decision-making, patient interactions and cultural competency.”

The emphasis on communication and teamwork does not end with the medical school interviews.  Medical students at Virginia Tech Carilion are required to take team-based classes.  The school also requires students to become involved in community projects.

The mini interviews help shift the discussion away from personal narratives (that are usually rehearsed) to focus on the student’s problem solving abilities.

For more information about Virginia Tech Carilion’s innovative medical school application process, please contact Dr. Stephen Workman at


Edward Leigh, MA, is the Founder and Director of the Center for Healthcare Communication.  The Center focuses on increasing patient satisfaction and decreasing the risk of medical errors. The Center offers high-impact training, consulting and one-on-one coaching. Edward Leigh’s newest book is Engaging Your Patients (due out in early 2012). or 1-800-677-3256

My Mother’s Recent Hospitalization Experiences: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly!

November 18, 2009

About a month ago, my mother was crossing the street with her friend. Just as she stepped on the sidewalk she started feeling faint and began to feel sick.  An ambulance was immediately contacted and my mother was taken to the ER.  My mother’s friend accompanied her to the hospital — she called us from the hospital and told us to come right over.

My brother and I entered the hospital’s ER to find my Mom awake and alert. An ER nurse told us that my mother’s EKG was abnormal and that she had a condition known as Atrial Fibrillation and would need to take the medication, Coumadin.

A few hours later, my mother was admitted to the hospital.  The physician on the unit determined the underlying medical issue, dehydration.  We thought my mother was drinking enough fluids — obviously not.  My mother was in the hospital for four days.  Upon proper hydration, she was feeling fine and looking forward to returning home.

These are my observations regarding my mother’s recent hospitalization.  I base the observations on my PIE Model of Patient Communication.
P  Psychosocial (providing emotional support)
I  Interviewing (getting information)
E  Educating (giving information)

Psychosocial Dimension

Everyone was very friendly and kind.  I found the healthcare professionals to be very caring and treated my mother quite well.  However, what I did not find was any direct empathic responses.  I was waiting for someone to make a statement such as, “I know this must be difficult for you.”  Every medical center and practice always mention that empathy is an important component of their work.  In reality, empathy is rarely displayed.  This is due to the fact that healthcare professionals are not educated on how to convey empathy.

Interviewing Dimension

The questioning techniques employed were sufficient to gather information from my mother and I.  There was the usual issue of asking too many closed questions in succession and not allowing the patient sufficient time to discuss their medical issues.

The biggest issue was closing the interview with this question, “Do you have any questions?”  That is a closed question.  To encourage patients to ask questions, we should rephrase the question as an open question, “What questions do you have?”

Educational Dimension

Brace yourself and fasten your seat belt!  This was by far the weakest area.  Upon discharge, the unit nurse reviewed the discharge instructions, which were disjointed at best.  There were so many issues, I almost did not know where to begin my evaluation.  These are the problem areas and suggestions for improvement:

Excessive use of medical jargon:  The discharge instructions used the terms presyncope and mixed hyperlipidemia.  I am in the healthcare field and know what the terms mean, but what if I wasn’t in the field and didn’t know what the words meant?  Use patient-friendly language.

Ultimate diagnosis not mentioned. My mother initially fainted, but was ultimately diagnosed with dehydration by the attending physician.  Dehydration was never mentioned in the discharge report. This is a perfect of example of how poor handoffs lead to medical errors. At the time of discharge, I asked about the dehydration and how much fluid my mother should consume.  The nurse said, “About 3-4 glasses a day, I guess.” (Having a solid healthcare background, I researched the topic and developed a daily fluid intake plan for my mother.)
Vague comments. The discharge form states, “Will order Influenza vaccine.” Was it ever administered to my mother?  I called the hospital and was first sent to the Medical Records Department — they had no idea.  The Medical Records Department sent me to the unit, who also had no idea.  The unit nurse did say this, “Your Mom most likely did get the flu shot.  We usually give it to people 50 or over.”  Why didn’t the report state, “Patient was given a flu shot?”

No educational materials / resources.  In spite of the fact my mother was diagnosed with dehydration, no information was provided.  A brochure, website or organization to contact would have been helpful.

Overall, the healthcare professionals who took care of my mother were kind and skilled at their jobs.  There were some issues with the interviewing questions and empathic responding, however the biggest concern was the poor patient education component.  If patients do not comprehend their medical situation, they are at risk.

I signed the form for my mother (I have Power of Attorney).  By signing the form, I indicated I understand the discharge papers.  I actually did understand them — I have been in healthcare over 20 years.  My biggest concern is that most people will sign the form stating they understand, but they really do not.

Hospitals need to do a better job at educating patients.


Edward Leigh, MA, is the Founder and Director of the Center for Healthcare Communication.  To book one of his high-content credit-hour-approved keynote speeches or training programs, visit or call: / 1-800-677-3256

New “Readability Toolkit” Helps Develop Understandable Patients Forms and Educational Materials

July 9, 2009


The Group Health Center for Health Studies recently created an excellent report, the “Readability Toolkit.”  The Toolkit is designed to show research teams how to create consent forms and other participant materials in plain language.  Overall, the Toolkit has excellent information to create patient-friendly forms and educational literature.

The Toolkit contains these sections:

What You Should Know Before Using this Toolkit – Background information on health literacy, plain language, and why both are important in the research context.

The Principles of Plain Language – An explanation of the components of plain language, as well as concrete strategies that support plain language writing.

How to Determine Reading Level – Information and advice about using readability formulas to rate the approximate reading level of your materials.

Quick Reference Guide for Improving Readability – An at-a-glance summary of plain language principles and strategies, plus other formatting, editing, and proofreading tips.

Editing Checklist for Participant Materials – A companion to the Quick Reference Guide that guides users through a systematic process to improve readability, identify unclear concepts, and eliminate proofreading errors.

Resources for Informed Consent Documents – Readability advice and resources specifically for consent forms, including a list of common pitfalls, links to helpful consent templates and guidelines, and a selection of easy-to-read template language for common consent topics, such as randomization and voluntary participation.

Resources for HIPAA Authorization Documents – Links to helpful HIPAA templates and guidelines, along with a brief selection of easy-to-read HIPAA language.

Alternative wording suggestions – A list of plain language alternatives for hundreds of words typically used in medical and research settings and links to online resources that define medical and research jargon.

Examples of improved readability– Before and after “snapshots” of plain language revisions to original text taken from actual participant materials.

Examples of improved formatting – Techniques for improving readability through
formatting changes are illustrated with three before and after examples: an advance letter, a consent form, and a study information sheet. While the focus is on improved formatting, all three examples also illustrate other plain language techniques.

Repository of readability resources and references – A clearinghouse of Web-based resources focused on health literacy, readability, plain language, and informed consent, plus a short bibliography of articles related to literacy and readability in health research.

Download the complimentary Toolkit here:


Edward Leigh, MA, is the Founder and Director of the Center for Healthcare Communication.  To book one of his high-content credit-hour-approved keynote speeches or training programs, visit or call: or call 1-800-677-3256

Teaching Patients about their Medications: The Keys to Decreasing Non-Compliance

February 6, 2009


According to the National Council for Patient Information and Education,

about 50% of the 2 – 3 billion prescriptions filled each year are not taken

correctly.  According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality,

educating patients before they leave the hospital reduces readmissions,

emergency department visits and saves money.  Medication non-compliance is

a very serious problem, however

by following a series of guidelines we can help reduce the severity of

this issue.

The following are tips to help patients understand their medications:

Confirm that the patient understands the reason for the medication.  Before


a discussion of the medication (s), the patient first must have an


of the reason for the medication.  For example, if a patient has been

diagnosed with diabetes, they must first have a basic understanding of

their disease.

The basics.  Be sure you review the following information with the

patient: brand / generic name, function, how / when / length of time the

medication is taken, possible side effects, foods / liquids / activities

to avoid while

on the medication, refills (if necessary) and medication storage.

Ask about the use of herbal remedies, over-the-counter medications,

vitamins and mineral supplements.  We should

already know about any other prescription medications that patients are


but we must also inquire about non-prescription medications, for these

could interact with prescription medications.

Financial issues.  Many people don’t take medications because of economic

hardships.  We must be very sensitive to this issue and inquire in a

careful manner.  For example, we must never say, “Can you afford this new

medication?”  Most people would be too embarrassed to admit they can’t.  As

an option, try a question like this, “This medication will be an

additional expense, how does it fit into your finances?”

Make it easy for the patient to take the medication.  Think of a plan

that would work for the patient.  If the medication is taken in the

evening, suggest they keep the prescription near their toothbrush as a

reminder (assuming they brush their teeth before bed!).  If they have

other medications and use a weekly pill tray, have them add the new pills

to the tray.

Dosage issues.  In some cases, dosages have to be adjusted after beginning

the medication.  It is important patients are told of this BEFORE they

leave.  For example, if a patient is taking a preventive medication for

migraines, but still has headaches, they may think you gave them the wrong

medication and you are not helping them with their medical issue.

Literature about the medication.  For non-hospitalized patients, many

pharmacies provide literature about medications when the prescription is

picked up.  However, we can’t assume

this fact.  For commonly prescribed medications, having a page about basic

medication facts would be very helpful.  Use a highlighter or pen to note

critical prescription facts for the patient.

Check with the patient to verify understanding of the medication.  In one of my “Communicating with Patients” workshops,

a participant stated, “I would say to a  patient, ‘I have given you all

the medication facts, now repeat them back to me.'”  That type of comment

puts people on the spot. (If I heard that comment I would think to myself,


oh, I didn’t know there was going to be a test!”)  A better comment would

be, “I have given you a lot of information, let’s review your

understanding of the prescription.”  Then ask patients to review his/her

understanding of what you discussed.

Have family members or caregivers be part of the team.  Explain the

medication to other people so they can help with administration and

provide reminders.

Identify patients at risk for non-compliance. These patients may need a

referral to an agency to help with administration.  Also, contact the

pharmacist to design a drug administration schedule that can be easily


For more information regarding educating patients about their medications,

visit the National Council on Patient Information and Education website: (The organization motto is, “Educate before

you medicate.”)

Edward Leigh, MA, is the Founder and Director of the Center for Healthcare

Communication.  To book one of his high-content communication skills

programs, visit or call: or call 1-800-677-3256

Educating Your Patients: 10 Top Teaching Tips

February 2, 2009


Healthcare professionals spend a great deal of time educating their
patients about illnesses and medical procedures.  Unfortunately, several
studies shave shown that
this is traditionally a weak area and patients may walk away experiencing
confusion, and subsequently, anxiety.

In today’s hectic healthcare environment, time constraints are the norm.
We often feel rushed with little time to educate our patients.  Taking the
to learn appropriate educational techniques ultimately saves a lot of time
down the road.  If we don’t explain it properly the first time, then
patients will call back, which takes an even larger amount of time taken
away from an already busy schedule.

Partner with your patient.  Do not think in terms of telling your patients
what do you.  Offer suggestions and choices and then together come up with
the best possible solution.  The healthcare professional-patient
relationship has moved from paternalistic to partnership.

Avoid medical jargon.  Unless your patient is also a healthcare
professional, speak plain English.  For example, use the term “kidney” not
“renal.”  Think about the roots of medical terms to help explain
conditions.  For example, cardiomyopathy literally means “heart muscle
disease” (cardio = heart, myo = muscle, pathy = disease).  Telling a
patient they have cardiomyopathy might sound completely foreign to them.
However, telling a patient there is a problem with the heart muscle sounds
much more understandable.

Offer explanations during examinations.  Let the patients know what you
are doing.  For example, you can say, “Now I am checking your lungs.”
This will help the patient feel more at ease as opposed to being silent.
During the silence they may think to themselves, “He spent a long time
examining my back, maybe there is something wrong?”

Use analogies and metaphors.  These can be very helpful to explain medical
concepts.  For example, when explaining a colon resection, an analogy of
a garden hose can be used.  We can say to a patient, “We need to remove a
section of your colon.  Imagine a garden hose, we remove a section and
then reattach.”

Explain statistics using people not percentages.  Saying 9 out of 10
patients do well is better than saying ninety percent of
cases.  People can relate to the word patients, but not as much to the
word “cases.”  Percentages sound distant and scientific, while patients /
people are more friendly and warm.

Sketch a diagram.  In your office always have paper for drawing simple
diagrams.  Be sure the pad of paper has your medical practice / center
contact information written on it.  These hand-drawn sketches are
very effective and patients feel special that you did this just for them.
Of course, pre-printed charts and graphs and also effective.

Utilize Plastic models.  These items are very helpful in explaining medical
procedures or tests.  They provide  a strong visual element to help
patients understand complicated medical anatomy and physiology.  When, I
was undergoing chemotherapy, I had problems with the constant needle
sticks.  I
was told of the benefits of a Bard® Port; a device implanted under the
skin for
chemotherapy infusions.  My oncology nurses brought out a model to explain
where the port would be implanted.  I decided on getting a port, which
made chemotherapy a much more pleasant experience!

Avoid stress-inducing words; replace with gentler terms.  Instead of using
the words “deformity” or “abnormality,” use the term “finding.”  “When we
have this finding” sounds less anxiety-provoking than saying, “An
abnormality was seen …”

In terms of looking at our lives, we all want positive experiences.  We
all want to achieve remarkable things.  However, in healthcare we want
just the opposite!  We want our test results to be negative and
unremarkable.  We have to be sure that our patients clearly understand
what these two terms really mean!

Use brochures.  Provide written information the patient can take home.
However, before giving written materials to patients be sure to
carefully review the information.  Are the materials written in plain
English?  Are there helpful visuals in the materials?  Just before giving
the brochure to the patient, briefly review key sections with them.  Keep
a pen or highlighter nearby; you may want to mark certain parts of the

Supply Resources.  Provide information to help the patient understand and
cope with the medical challenge they are currently facing.  Think about
organizations that can be of assistance, such as a local chapter of a
non-profit group.  Also, think about websites to refer patients.

Through effective educational techniques we can help patients better
understand their medical issues.  This will lead to more satisfied
patients and improved compliance.


Edward Leigh, MA, is the Founder and Director of the Center for Healthcare
Communication.  To book one of his high-content communication skills programs, visit or call: or call 1-800-677-3256