When you give instructions to parents or patients, do they understand what you want them to do?

Over 90 million adults in the U.S. have limited health literacy. This means that they may have trouble:

Parents with limited health literacy may have trouble understanding information about their children’s health. Use plain language so that they can understand — and follow — your instructions.

Plain language is a strategy that works for both written and verbal communication. When you use plain language, you make information easier to understand and act on. Some key elements of plain language include:

  • Using simple language and explaining any technical terms (e.g., “Your child may be at risk for diabetes, which means your child’s blood has too much sugar in it.”)
  • Using an active voice (e.g., “Offer your child fresh fruit instead of cookies after school.”)
  • Breaking complex information into short statements.  (e.g., “Exercise is one way to stay healthy. Try playing a new sport.”)
  • Providing the most important information first (e.g., “Exercise can help you stay healthy by …”)
  • Focusing on the two or three most important concepts — the “need to know” versus the “nice to know”

Once you have given instructions in plain language, you can use the teach-back method to reinforce what you’ve said. Instead of asking “Do you understand?”, you can:

  • Ask how the parent or patient will implement the treatment plan
  • Ask the parent to show you how to use a medical device
  • Ask what the parent will tell his/her spouse or partner about the child’s care and treatment
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American Academy of Pediatrics