Communicating with Patients in Layman’s Terms

Communicating with Patients in Layman’s Terms

Try to remember how you reacted to the first classes you attend in massage school. You probably strained to catch the medical terms and body parts trying to conjure up their meaning without appearing confused. Now you can rhyme them off in everyday conversation without missing a beat. But if you are using these terms to explain treatments and conditions to your patients you can be guaranteed that unless they are in the healthcare profession you’ve lost them with the first mention of Cranial Sacral Therapy. Learning to speak to your patients in layman’s terms will help keep your patients comfortable with the treatment you are recommending and allow them to make informed decisions based on their needs.

Body Language
One of the best ways to communicate with patients about their body is to use their body or yours. When you begin a long and in-depth description about their injuries or intended treatment and how it will affect parts of their body you will lose them if they don’t understand what you are saying. Using their body or your own to point out the body parts you are discussing will allow them to follow along visually making it easier to understand what you are saying. You can choose to use the medical terms while doing this, but do it while pointing to the body parts so they will understand. Indicate where it is located so that they will know what to expect and understand more about their condition.

Medical Text Books Don’t Lie
It may be tempting to quote the terms and modalities you wish to use for treatment because you know the medical text books are accurate in their explanations. As honourable as this might seem, you will definitely do nothing more than confuse your patient. Remember that in the case where you are literally trying to sell them on a recommended treatment to encourage them to return. If they don’t understand the benefits of the treatment they are less likely to spend their money. Think of it as going to an ethnic restaurant where the foods are all named by their ethnic names. If there isn’t a description of the food you will be eating chances are you will want to go to another restaurant where you will recognize the food you will be eating. It is not new flavours that scare you away. It is the unknown that you don’t trust.

Bedside Thesaurus
Keep a thesaurus at your bedside and look for words to replace medical terms. For example, instead of acute you can say sudden, instead of fascia you can say body tissue. Suddenly a sentence that sounds like this: “Deep tissue massage is a modality that reaches structures far beneath the superficial fascia through palpation for efficacious alleviation of chronic muscle problems or injuries to the physiology” becomes this: “Deep tissue massage will offer relief from muscle pain through gentle touch that will relax muscles and improve circulation.” You take the response from “Huh?” to “Ohhhh.”

Learning to communicate with your patients on their terms will help you form stronger bonds. It’s much like the old saying, “Give a man a fish he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish he will eat for life.” Educating patients in a language they understand will help them trust you and feel comfortable with the treatment you recommend.


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