Patients’ health literacy is a significant concern in the medical aesthetics field. It can affect treatment perceptions, risk assessment, informed consent, and safety and efficacy, as well as lead to a host of legal and brand image concerns for your clinic. Carefully consider the impact lofty treatment explanations and reference materials could have on your business and discover these seven tips to ensure you and your staff are able to effectively explain treatments, risks, outcomes, and directions in a way that ensures full patient comprehension.
As defined by the National Academy of Medicine, the definition of health literacy is “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.” According to the most recent survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, an estimated 32 million U.S. adults cannot read, while the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reports that just 50% of U.S. adults are able to read text written at an eighth-grade literacy level, as reported by the Washington Post. Finally, the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (the most recent data available) reported that almost half of the country’s population is considered to be inadequately literate, meaning they are unable to read instructions about when to take a medication, for example.
Given these statistics, it is clear that low health literacy is a serious concern. While there may be differences in the aesthetics and medical health fields, a professional aesthetic treatment provider should approach the relationship with patients in the same way a medical doctor would. After all, this patient-physician relationship hinges on trust and knowledge and many aesthetic treatments can pose potential medical risks that require informed consent from patients. They must understand the risks, benefits, and realistic expectations of any medical aesthetic treatment before opting into a treatment plan. As such, complete understanding should be a concern to medical aesthetics providers as well.
As an aesthetic treatment provider, it is your duty to ensure both you and your staff are able to bridge the gap between your own health literacy and that of the average patient. Filtering out medical jargon and being able to break down complex ideas into simple explanations is a skill that must be constantly developed. The following tips can help you and your staff get to a level at which you may connect with your target patient base, earn their trust, and ensure no patients slip through the cracks.
While it may stand to reason that we should swap out “erythema” for “redness” or “edema” for “swelling” when speaking to patients, there are other terms that may seem self-explanatory but may carry a different meaning for patients. For example, when physicians refer to “diet,” they typically mean all of the food that a patient eats; the patient, on the other hand, may consider the term “diet” a restriction of the food they eat, usually limiting caloric intake or portion size. Another example may be “exercise.” To an aesthetics professional, “exercise” may refer to a long walk each day to help maintain body shaping results, but a patient may perceive “exercise” to be a high-intensity workout at the gym. While both perceptions may offer positive benefits for some patients, they also risk overwhelming a patient and causing them to quit any efforts, which leads to an overall negative outcome. These terms are referred to as “medicalese” and may not be so simple to spot, so it’s best to keep a list of words on file that you may use when training new staff or retraining existing staff.
For some patients, it may seem embarrassing to not be able to comprehend materials or follow explanations, particularly following a lengthy discussion. In these cases, it might be beneficial to leave an open invitation to the patient to bring along one trusted family member or friend who may better help them relax and can act as a helping hand in understanding more complex material. Having this be an option for any patient also allows this process to be considered normal and may make it more comfortable for someone who wants to take you up on the offer. Of course, while comfort is key here, it is important to ensure the patient fully comprehends risks and expectations of their chosen treatment and that their guest simply serves as a comfortable and helpful presence.
Ensure patients feel comfortable to ask questions, are invited to do so, and that you ask questions to them that may be more open-ended, rather than requiring a simple yes or no response. This encourages a healthy dialogue between you and the patient. Further, ensure your consultation rooms are organized in a way that reflects the idea of collaboration. Rather than sitting on opposite sides of a table or desk, for example, sit side-by-side to review important documents together and convey a sense of equality. These simple openings will ensure patients feel more comfortable asking questions while making them feel a part of the process. It also helps to ensure they understand their role in obtaining optimal outcomes, they are able to give their informed consent, and that you can work together to ensure overall patient satisfaction.
Review the information provided in brochures and consent forms, prioritizing clarity and understanding and ensuring materials are designed in a patient-friendly way. Use simple words, vary sentence length, shorten long paragraphs of text into bulleted points when possible, and incorporate white space so patients aren’t weighed down with walls of writing. Further, incorporate simple graphics and before-and-after pictures when helpful to illustrate key points. It also helps to highlight or underline key points while reviewing materials with patients to draw attention to the most important information.
As an alternative to lengthy text or in addition to informational brochures, you may also incorporate videos or slideshows for a multimedia approach. Not all patients learn the same way. Some will better comprehend and recall key information conveyed through more visual resources. For this reason, looking for clues on how the patient may best absorb key information and mixing in different media formats that cater to that individual patient can improve literacy and understanding. You may also email these resources to patients following their initial consultation, so they may further review them and ensure they make an informed decision.
Verbally conveying a lot of key information all at once can cause key points to get lost in the mix and patients may start to zone out. Help encourage active listening by communicating in key points and avoiding excessive or tangential information. Generally speaking, most patients can only remember three key messages at once; keep this in mind as you structure your information. A helpful tool to consider may be an adaptation of “Ask Me 3.” Created by the Partnership for Clear Health Communication and adapted here for aesthetics professionals, the Ask Me 3 method emphasizes three essential questions you should answer for patients:
While you must also cover other key information regarding risks and outcomes, directing patients’ attention to these three key points can better help patients absorb the bigger picture first before covering the details.
The teach-back method is also a highly recommended approach to aesthetics consultations. Rather than just asking yes-or-no questions that risk patients simply lying to say they understand rather than risking the embarrassment of asking you to repeat everything again, this approach invites the patient to put key information into their own words. If a patient notes during the appointment that they will want to discuss their options with a partner or trusted friend before committing, you may use this opening to suggest they practice what they’ll say on you, asking them to explain to you the three key points of the treatment. If a patient is unable to repeat the information back to you, you can then review the significant points with them, ideally using a different approach that perhaps incorporates different visual and verbal strategies to help it stick.
The ultimate goal of any aesthetics consultation may be to convert patients, but it is necessary to understand that every treatment plan is collaborative. If patients do not properly understand the benefits, know how to manage their expectations, or misunderstand their key role in the process, particularly prior to and following each treatment, it’s unlikely that patient will return or worse, they may generate negative word of mouth. By ensuring patient comprehension and emphasizing the collaborative aspect of the treatment plan, you can better ensure optimal efficacy and improved patient retention.
Feeling a little overwhelmed with the task of creating informative and accessible educational materials for your patients? Venus Concept partners can benefit from our comprehensive practice enhancement program and patient-focused free marketing resources. Learn more by contacting an expert today using the button below.