Thirty million American adults are below a basic health literacy level1. As a professional I often ask myself when I am speaking about clinical research to friends, family or the community, “How are my communication skills?”. Am I clear and understandable to the point where a person with no prior knowledge can understand clinical research? Am I explaining key terms in a concise manner?
A primary factor in communicating clinical research effectively is health literacy. Health literacy is known as the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand health information or services needed to make the appropriate health decisions for their lives or the lives of their loved one2. Health literacy can be dependent on factors like communication skills, knowledge of health topics, culture, and the context of the information. Low health literacy may affect a person’s ability to navigate the health system, engage in self-care and even fill out standard forms.
For clinical research, low health literacy can be a factor as to why clinical trial volunteers are not well informed. Conveying information and comprehension are not one in the same. At first glance, being a part of a clinical trial can be confusing and still unfamiliar to many. Yet, it is important that volunteers are knowledgeable about their clinical trial to make informed decisions for themselves and effectively contribute to medical advancement.
Here are some tips you can use to connect patients, family, friends and the community with clinical research:
- Use language that can be understood across all cultures and at a basic reading level. Try to stay away from terms not readily understood by the majority of the population. While you may have to use some clinical research language as such, be sure to thoroughly explain commonly misunderstood terms or processes.
- Storytelling can be an effective tool in communicating clinical research. People are more likely to connect with a story, retain the facts about the story and duplicate it when sharing it with others. Think about the many stories you have heard that have positively changed your life.
- Be creative! Do not be afraid to use your best artistic skills to draw pictures or diagrams that will help communicate what you are trying to present to a person.
- Confirm their understanding. Ask them open-ended questions where they can repeat back what they heard.
Kofi Annan, Ghanaian Diplomat, once said: “Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family”. Effective communication leads to informed, educated individuals who are empowered to make smart, positive changes in their lives and be a source to help others do the same.