Developing easy-to-understand contents to better communicate with patients and citizens in general in the context of the COVID-19 emergency crisis

When trying to explain something of our area of expertise to someone, we often get too technical. This is because we assume everyone understands things as we do. For this reason, it is fundamental that healthcare professionals adapt their communication when talking to patients. This is especially relevant in a context like the one given in this COVID-19 situation where a person’s health is not solely in hands of the professionals but also on their own. A well-informed society is more likely to make judicious decisions over its health becoming empowered and autonomous. 

This second i-CONSENT tool aims to make a compilation of strategies and tips for health care providers and authorities so they can better provide information to the society in a way that it is easier to understand and manage.

Content

The patient’s comprehension of the information provided is one indicator of its quality. To enable comprehension appropriate, accurate and relevant information should be provided in a way that is understood by the audience. Some practical tips to improve the audience’s comprehension include:

  • Using a glossary of terms to explain the more complex concepts (see our COVID-19 glossary of terms). Su dictionaries and links to “further information” is also recommended.
  • Using plain language and avoiding technical jargon
  • Providing the information at at least three grade levels lower than the average educational level of the target population. To measure this level of education, use validated indexes or tools designed to measure the readability of the text (i.e. “Reading ease score”)
  • Ensuring legibility by using appropriate font styles, sizes and colours; use images, tables and graphics properly

Format

Along with the content, format is equally important. Different formats increase the possibilities of the target audience to better understanding the message. Some tips regarding the format include:

  • Presenting key points in booklets, leaflets or flowcharts may facilitate the understanding
  • Including graphics to facilitate processing and enhancing comprehension, independently of an individual’s health literacy level through the following formats: 
    • Diagrams
    • Pictures
    • Icons
    • Infographics
  • New technologies can be also useful for communicating information. Alongside with a personal and face-to face interaction, consider the use of digital tools or multimedia components to complement traditional paper-based approach, such as:
    • Video with voice over 
    • Webpage with hyperlinks 
    • Mobile App

Whatever option you choose, remember to always give the participant the choice and to offer them more than one format possibility for receiving the information.

Personalisation

But there is a third dimension that should be taken into account when communicating with citizens, which is personalisation. You wouldn’t approach an adult as you would a child. This is important to have in mind as well because the message can’t be lost on its way. Although i-CONSENT will publish a specific post on personalisation, here you’ll find some previous concepts.

The discussion between the patients and health professionals provides an ideal opportunity to address the patients’ individual needs. This will allow the health professional to tailor the information and adapt it to the specific target group. For instance:

  • When knowing the patient’s needs, the professional can present the information in an orderly manner prioritising those contents that interest him/her the most.
  • Also, the usage of storytelling formats when appropriate, e.g. with children

Recommendations also include using a layered approach for presenting information. This will help the professional to organise the information and not to overwhelm the patient. This approach includes:

  • A first layer, with concise and non-technical summary of the information which provides the essential ideas 
  • A second or further layers, include more detailed information. 

Assessing the understanding is an important final step if one has the chance. If the health professional is able to have a final face to face discussion with the patient a useful strategy is to ask open questions. If the receptor can answer them back correctly and can elaborate a bit more on the contents, it means that it is understanding.

The information from this post is extracted from the findings following the i-CONSENT project research. This and other information will be included in the project’s guidelines released very soon.