Medicus Sunday Serial | Decoding “Pharmaspeak” and Connecting with Patients

If nothing else, 2020 has been an interesting year in words. With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to dominate the headlines, hitherto-unfamiliar terms such as “R number”, “herd immunity”, and “incubation period” have forced their way into the vernacular. Yet behind the jargon lies a desire for clarity: in this fascinating Medicus Sunday Serial, Medicus AI’s Head of Marketing and Content Serene Touma and Research Team Leader Nisreen Hassoun discuss the need for better communication on both sides of the patient-doctor relationship. Later, they examine how digitization in healthcare is influencing the medical landscape.

Medicus AI
Sep 28, 2020 · 7 min read
Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

Serene:

Hello Nisreen, and thank you for taking the time to chat with me today about a topic I know we are both quite passionate about. Although we approach things from totally different sides, you, a pharmacist, and me, a writer, our work together has given me one of my most valuable working relationships at Medicus. It’s always great to discover that we can continue to learn from each other, and on a daily basis too!

Nisreen:

Hi Serene! Firstly, thank you for your kind words. The feeling is mutual. In terms of my new content drive, I guess it all started 3 years ago. At the time, I was on a TV show that dealt with medicinal plants, the subject of my master’s degree. One of the things I noticed was that people were really not aware of the risks that such plants can pose, and as I dealt with the topic, I received more and more questions on YouTube and Facebook.

Serene:

It really makes you think about how people’s exposure to different types of information can influence them. I’m a content creator and copywriter without a medical background of any kind, which means my role often forces me into that of the “user advocate”. I often find myself pushing back when it comes to content from our medical teams, and asking the million-dollar question: “What does that actually mean?”

One of the most interesting things is how certain phrases or words can be common amongst pharmacists or medical professionals but have no real meaning to users.

My favorite example is “equivocal” for the outcome of a test result: I had to look that one up! Instead of leaving users with an understanding of their health, jargon leaves them with doubts, trying to decipher what is going on.

Nisreen:

There is simply not enough communication. Patients are often shy, and doctors and nurses are busy, which makes it hard to even explain the minimum. However, as we say at Medicus, understanding health requires an understanding from everyone.

I notice that there is a genuine desire on the patient side to know more, but there is simply not enough communication from either end. Many people feel there’s no time or space to ask the questions they want to, while the questions that do get asked have complicated answers.

Sadly, there is a lack of simple words that explain to patients what is happening in certain cases. A good example of this is the difference in perception between “controlling” and “curing” a health condition. In the end, it can really frustrate or upset patients, which in turn can make doctors’ jobs harder.

Serene:

We are lucky to be working on a couple of ambitious initiatives at Medicus, envisioned as a direct outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic and the changing attitudes to health. Specifically, they address the patient’s understanding of their own health and their awareness of the ways diseases can spread.

Nisreen:

As the shift toward teleconsultation gathers speed, people are beginning to understand its potential: the medical community now accepts this channel as a valid way of treating patients. However, my concern is that digital care and support cannot reach everyone in every community, especially the elderly or the economically disadvantaged, and it’s not ethical or fair to exclude these groups. We need to think of ways to overcome the issue of reach.

Patients have a tendency to talk down or talk up their symptoms or their progress with a medication. In a face-to-face scenario, a doctor would be able to read between the lines and interpret body language in order to find the real truth.

I would also like to add that the telemedicine process needs to involve pharmacists as well: we’re really the people who tell you how and when to take your medication, which is especially important if you are already receiving other treatments. Healthcare doesn’t stop when you leave the doctor’s office, and it’s important people understand this.

Serene:

Our vision at Medicus is simple in essence, to help people understand their health, but we know it’s not that simple in practice. We spend a lot of time considering the ways in which doctors communicate with patients, simply to understand their symptoms as best as possible and to take the first steps on the diagnostic and treatment journey.

Nisreen:

Good question. Firstly, I think it’s key that people in the medical field have active listening and communication skills. This can be just as important as their medical expertise. I think it would be a major step forward if good, concise content was provided to the patient as soon as the telemedicine session was over. However, patients themselves need to get smart when it comes to finding trustworthy information. Don’t ask the neighbors, your relatives, or worse, Google.

This has been one of the positive outcomes of COVID-19, the idea of appreciating clear information and the importance of scrutinizing its sources. For other illnesses, sadly, the range of written material is less well-defined for the large majority of patients.

Doctors, of course, should focus on medicines and conditions, but they also need to think of the patient holistically, taking into account their lifestyle and looking at the complete picture of health. Psychology is an important element here, especially when it comes to understanding behavioral triggers and habits.

Serene:

Agreed. Thank you for your time today Nisreen. As always, it had been a pleasure learning from you, and I look forward to the next chat!

Medicus AI

Medicus is a fast-growing ambitious company committed to…

Medicus AI

Medicus AI is an innovative technology company that helps people understand their health by explaining their medical reports and health data to them in a personalized, easy-to-understand, and visual way.

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Medicus AI

Medicus AI is an innovative technology company that helps people understand their health by explaining their medical reports and health data to them in a personalized, easy-to-understand, and visual way.