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Communicating Across Diverse and Differently Literate Audiences

Screen shot 2013-10-30 at 4.09.44 PMWe can all remember a time when we have received medical information from our doctor and have walked away with little or no comprehension of what was discussed.  The second chapter in Oncofertility Communication: Sharing Information and Building Relationships Across Disciplines is entitled Communicating Across Diverse and Differently Literate Audiences and the authors, Drs. Jennifer Mersereau and Anna R. Brandon, address the challenges faced by clinicians and patients when discussing complicated medical issues.

Language barriers in medicine is an ongoing challenge as medical information is typically delivered in English while the US Census Bureau indicates that approximately 21% of the population speaks a language other than English at home.  While the language barrier seems simple to overcome, adapting information in a way that is sensitive to language and cultural differences can be very expensive and resource-intensive.  Fertility preservation is such a complex field, with overlap between medicine, embryology and statistics that much is literally ‘lost in  translation’ when communicating information to non-English speakers.  While waiting for access to adapted fertility preservation documents and websites geared towards different languages and cultures, clinicians do the best they can with the information available to them while remaining sensitive to unique cultural beliefs about cancer and treatment choices.

One way for clinicians to assist their patients in understanding information is to provide educational materials for review at home.  Educational materials geared towards lower level literacy are paramount in successful retention of information; especially in institutions that do not have a dedicated fertility preservation patient navigator to help the patient and family through their journey.  In addition to hard copy documents that clinicians will physically hand to the patient, Chapter 2 outlines methods for improving online access to similar educational materials by suggesting that websites ‘layer content’ which increases usability of the sites by allowing users at various literacy levels to utilize the site in a way and at a pace that is appropriate.

These are just a handful of examples of the information available in this chapter.  The further you dive into Oncofertility Communication, the more you will understand the complexity of the issues at hand.  While Chapter 2 specifically outlines the communication challenges faced by patients and clinicians alike, it also offers suggestions and recommendations for addressing these issues and advancing the field.  Please take the time to review Oncofertility Communication: Sharing Information and Building Relationships Across Disciplines and discuss with your colleagues.  The Oncofertility Consortium is always available to answer questions at the FERTline (866)708-3378 or oncofertility@northwestern.edu.

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