Translating literacy into education, and more

Find ways, and means, to educate patients. It will pay off.

A true story to share.

A patient called us, quite upset, after she got home from an office visit. She said driving had been challenging and scary in the dark because her vision was blurry. Had staff advised, before dilating her pupils, that her vision would be temporarily altered, we asked. Staff had said something, the patient said, but had never explained what pupils were or what dilation meant.

A valuable lesson here. Staff did as they were trained, but the practice got blamed anyway because this woman didn’t understand what would happen to her. She had not been queried about her comprehension, and it’s unlikely that she would have checked her smartphone or asked staff to explain: Embarrassment is a strong emotion.


Health literacy, which I equate to patient education, cannot be a passive exercise. Yes, health literacy is about acknowledging the poor average-reading level in this country, but it’s more than that. If patients are to appreciate what we can do for their vision, then they need to appreciate the scope and scale of our offerings. The option to pay for services is relatively new. Patients need more information considering the broader options in diagnostics and premium IOLs that are now available to them.

So, it is up to us, staff included, to teach them by speaking accessible language and by using patient-friendly technology.


When we, as physicians, speak with our patients, we don’t always remember that we are in doctor mode. We are making complex decisions in our brain, and then have to translate that complexity to the level of the lay person. It’s like switching between multiple languages.

In our practice, physicians and surgical coordinator sit at the same level as the patient when we speak with him. After we review the patient’s condition, we e-mail a video that explains the diagnosis and recommended procedure. The explanation is animated with a voice-over.

For example, if the patient has a cataract, the video would include general information of the clouded lens, the phacoemulsification process and IOL implant types. In the likelihood that the patient has astigmatism, the video would cover toric implants as well. The patient also receives brochures supplying information on premium implants.

In the exam room, we utilize e-tablets that contain information about patients’ diagnoses. If they have glaucoma, for example, they will receive a visual explanation of the disease state and affected anatomy.

Some might consider all this a waste of time, but our conversion rates to advanced technology lenses and out-of-pocket services make it worth our while. And happy patients usually tell their friends. OM