My doctor speaks another language by Christina Nowak


My doctor speaks another language: Knowledge is Power when it comes to your health care! by Christina Nowak

As health care professionals, we go to school and are surrounded by other health care professionals that speak the same language as us. I’m not talking about English versus French, I’m talking about the health language. Names for parts of the body and diseases and conditions that sound like a foreign language to those not in this space.

Then we go out into practice and often become terrible communicators. One of the key pieces to effective communication with any person is to be able to meet them where they are at and describe things in a way that they understand. I see clinicians every day (and I myself am still guilty of this and is something I am always trying to make better), talking to their patients as if they are talking to another doctor. They talk quickly and use a TON of medical jargon and expect their patients and clients to follow along at their level.

And people just can’t – they do not have 4-10 years of medical experience.
This relates to a concept called “health literacy”. Health literacy means that we have the necessary information that we need to make decisions about our health and care.

A recent study released said that those who felt they had the necessary information (ie had better health literacy), felt that they had better control over their health and were more likely to take part in health screens like mammograms for women over 50, or exercise. People understood the what, AND the why, and were informed enough to recognize just how important these recommendations by their doctors are.

It is easy to blame our health care team for why this happens….

But we AS the patients and clients have a role to play in this too! Have you ever gone to see your doctor, and your doctor has made a change in a medication or prescription that you don’t understand? Have you ever been confused about what they were saying, didn’t ask them to clarify, and just trusted that what they were saying was right? Well that is wrong too.

Your relationship with your doctors, physios, dentists, chiros, whomever… is a dynamic exchange. You know yourself better than anyone and therefore you need to be your advocate.

Here are the questions that I want EVERYONE to answer YES to when they leave an appointment with me.

1. Could you repeat to your significant other what I said to you today?
2. Do you remember what I asked you to do (if anything) and WHY I thought it was so important?
3. Do I know the game plan? Did I feel involved in making that game plan based on what my goals were?

If the answer to any of these questions is NO, either I didn’t explain what we were doing well enough or the person I was talking to didn’t ask enough questions.

I have met too many people who have had surgery and when I ask what they had, they either don’t know what they had or even worse they don’t know why! That to me shows that we have some work to do.

So remember, ask questions! Your healthcare team is your resource… use them!

By Christina Nowak


Fernandez, D. M., Larson, J. L., & Zikmund-Fisher, B. J. (2016). Associations between health literacy and preventive health behaviors among older adults: Findings from the health and retirement study. BMC Public Health, 16(1), 596-016-3267-7. doi:10.1186/s12889-016-3267-7

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