Dumbing it Down: Where to Draw the Line?

Dumbing down medical information for patients can come in different forms. Some docs only provide the basics as to not overwhelm patients. Others may use a patronizing “you’ll be okay” tone that may be misleading. And recently a physician diagnosed a patient with “ghetto booty” instead of lumbar lordosis in an attempt to use slang to better explain a condition. So when is dumbing down technical verbiage to patients too dumb, dangerous – or offensive? The growing focus on health literacy is necessary, especially for those with a low literacy rate or for whom English is not their primary language.  The average American adult reads at a 7th to 8th grade level, so the American Medical Association, the NIH, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services encourage patient education materials to be written at a 4th to 6th grade reading level. But at what point does providing only basic information hinder patients from being advocates in their own care? Many healthcare professionals struggle with where to draw the line when it comes to effectively and clearly communicating information to their patients. Not every patient wants—or is capable—of handling the same amount of information. Healthcare professionals have to read the patient and situation to determine how much information to relay. Too much information may overwhelm patients or disclosing too many details of side effects may scare patients away from necessary treatment. At the same time, physicians are learning the hard way that automatically defaulting to the lowest common denominator may not always be the right answer or what’s in the patient’s best interests. Physician’s Weekly wants to know…Where...