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Health care professionals should practice “universal precautions” when communicating with others.14
- This means communicating clearly and in plain language with all patients.
- This is better than trying to identify and communicate differently with patients who have low health literacy.
- Since only 12% of Americans have proficient health literacy skills, universal precautions are a safe bet.
At first, it can be challenging to practice universal precautions.
- Health care information is scientific.
- Health care professionals have many years of formal education.
- They have learned to think about and talk about health and disease in a certain way.
- Changing this can take effort and practice!
Some health care professionals are reluctant to use plain language when communicating with patients. They may worry that
- They are "dumbing down" the information.
- Patients will feel insulted by their "plain talk."
- They won’t appear knowledgeable about the subject.
These concerns are not warranted.
- Patients prefer simple, straightforward communication.
- Clear health communication helps patients of all levels of education and health literacy learn more about their health.
- Nurs Outlook. 2011;59(2):85-94.