Week 2 Questions

Please provide a response to the following:

(1) Words matter. How does the language of consumer/provider (as opposed to patient/healthcare professional) have bearing on our discussion about health (il)literacy?

(2) How do the humanities help and/or hinder health literacy?

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15 Responses to Week 2 Questions

  1. Akanksha Samal says:

    The language of consumer and provider is applicable to our discussion of health literacy because, ideally, it implies communication between equals. The consumer comes to the provider out of need, a conversation is had, and the provider seeks to meet that need to the best of their abilities. Although compromises have to be made at times, both parties are part of the conversation. The patient/healthcare professional relationship should function in the same way; no party should be raised above the other. There should simply be two people who can think and act for themselves in a conversation both parties can understand. However, as we have seen from the readings and video from this past week, this is not the case, and health illiteracy continues to pose a major problem.

    It is important for healthcare professionals to remember that they are not speaking with their colleagues. In order to inform their patients of exactly what is required of them, the doctor has to include them in the conversation by speaking in plain terms and taking their needs into consideration. The patient’s responsibility is to think about their health decisions, inquire on points of confusion, and listen. Speaking, listening, and thinking are all aspects of not just consumer/provider interactions, but a part of everyday conversation.

    Some physicians choose to use medical terms simply because it is in the nature of the profession to do so (as every field has its own language and terminology), some use high language out of ego, and some use medical terminology to discourage patients from making harmful, or uninformed decisions (for example, Dr. Oz’s pseudoscience solutions that were mentioned in class). The humanities helps put the ‘human’ back into health literacy by reminding us that there are cultures, languages, and beliefs other than our own. I believe understanding these differences are just as powerful as the science of medicine in the healing process because it helps facilitate the compassionate communication that is needed in the healthcare system today.

    • Akanksha Samal says:

      *Just wanted to clarify that I do not think the doctor/patient relationship should be like an impersonal business transaction, simply that the discourse should be more equal and inclusive.

  2. Lucky Khambouneheuang says:

    The language of consumer/provider and language of patient/healthcare professional, in my opinion, capture opposite healthcare expectations. The language of consumer and provider strips the nature of the medical profession down to its most basic form of supply and demand. This is impersonal and adopts a more black and white outlook of doctor/patient relationship. The language of professional healthcare and patient however captures the often more complex connotative dimensions of medicine. The relationship between doctor and patient is more than provider and consumer; it is deeply anchored with meaning, trust, and respect. Professional and compassionate relationships are important in healthcare because they instill trust in patients to listen and respect physicians, an important component to building better health literacy.

    Interestingly, humanities have the capacity to both enhance and hinder health literacy. They hinder health literacy in the sense that humans follow a diverse range of culture, traditions, and languages. Such barriers make it hard for healthcare providers to effectively communicate with their patients. Even beyond linguistic barriers, patients who follow a different set of beliefs also present challenges in treatment options. A Jehovah Witness for instance refuses to take blood transfusions even when it means dying. Still, humanities also become an important instrumental tool to come to terms with such diversity and complications in medicine. Humanities foster compassion and sympathy, qualities that doctors need to cultivate in order to truly listen to the patient.

  3. Matthew Brandon Fine says:

    While I do agree that the consumer-provider relationship has the implication of equal footing, it may not be the correct response to health illiteracy. As it stands, patients going into doctors’ offices with the mind set of a consumer have been contributing to excessive prescription of drugs such as painkillers, antibiotics, antidepressants and etc; which I view as the other side of health illiteracy in the world of self diagnostics. While there are certainly steps that need to be taken in order to level the “playing field” between doctors and patients, it is vital to remember that doctors are learned professionals and have spent years studying for their profession. This is not to let them off the hook, they must realize that the industry they are in does not mean they are gods. They are providing a service to their patients and that means that they must be able to effectively communicate with them in order to provide effective care. For this doctors and patients not only need to be able to communicate, but they should be able to establish a relationship much like one does in a consumer relationship in order to foster an effective exchange.

    I think that the humanities have great promise in reducing the prevalence of health illiteracy. As we discussed in class the fact that doctors are so educated is indeed a barrier; however, it is only one of many. Culture, language, religion and education all play a large role in the efficacy of the doctor-patient relationship. The way many undergraduate and indeed professional programs teach their students to be very single minded has certainly been a major contributor to this issue. The humanities would help these students take a multidisciplinary approach to the issue and establish a more succinct picture of their patients rather than the data on the chart. The humanities, as our readings stated allow a patient to become a story rather than an illness, allowing their physicians to think of them as lives rather than patients.

  4. Kristine Rosenberger says:

    The language of consumer and provider carries with it the potential to lessen the high culture of paternalism characteristic of the American medical system. By referring to a person seeking medical services as a “consumer” we cast him in a more active role than that of patient. A patient typically enters a health care setting as a relatively passive party; he believes the physician to be superior and relinquishes ultimate authority to his healthcare professional. He is not likely to challenge or question his provider and as a result his health literacy will see minimal improvement. On the other hand a consumer is someone looking to buy a product and is hence more likely to shop around and think critically to ensure he is making the best decision. In the process this person becomes more informed and sees an increase in health literacy. By making patients increasingly aware of the consequence of their health choices we eliminate the tendency to leave all major decisions to the health care provider.
    Despite the fact that the terms consumer and provider place the individual in a more active role and promotes health literacy, I agree with Matthew that these terms do not provide an accurate description of the ideal healthcare model. By depicting interactions between individuals and their physicians as consumer/provider interactions we further contribute to the profit-based nature of the American health care system. Physician’s practices have come under scrutiny; doctors must fit in exceedingly high numbers of patients in order to make a profit. This change in term would further view medicine as a business endeavor and would potentially cause doctors to make their decisions based on financial incentives and not on the wellbeing of the patient. Therefore while the language of consumer provider has the potential to improve health literacy, we must carefully consider the implications this has for the future conduct of the health care industry.

    It is important to keep in mind that the presence of health literacy is not necessarily contingent on the presence of literacy. The video clip we viewed in class is a prime example of this phenomenon as it depicted various educated individuals and healthcare workers who lacked a basic level of health literacy. Thus the humanities hinder health literacy as they offer a false sense of security to those who can read and write at an above average level; intelligent individuals often times do not even consider the possibility that they have a below average level of health knowledge. This can prove detrimental to their well being as they do not know what they do not know. However the humanities also carry the potential to improve health literacy as they can serve as a bridge between the confusing medicalease used by doctors and the informal colloquialisms of the patients. By closing the gap between the two parties they can greatly increase the patient’s knowledge of his health situation and help to lessen the large amount of money that is wasted on medical care.

  5. Lauren Maryse McNaughton says:

    The answers given by my colleagues earlier all bring up important points regarding how we choose to name and define this relationship. While I agree with Akanksha that the consumer/provider label suggests equality, I definitely agree with Lucky that it lacks a certain level of connection you would expect between a healthcare professional and their patient. While the lack of connection noted when using consumer/provider is problematic, I do believe the suggestion of equality from these labels would be helpful in creating a health literate population. If viewing this relationship as a consumer looking to obtain better health, I believe more patients would ask more questions, explain what they expectations are, and give more input overall- just as they would do when buy a home or a car. However, this is about the health of people and not simply about materials. Looking at it from this point of view would also suggest the possibility of corruption in the care of other humans, just as there may be corruption within other consumer/provider relationships. A connection of compassion is necessary when handling the well being of other people to prevent a cold-hearted, business approach to health care.
    I believe the humanities have the ability to greatly enhance the medical field. While there are specific aspects the humanities can help with, such as language and cultural barriers, the greatest benefit of the humanities in healthcare is simply a greater understanding of humanity and society. As Lucky mentioned above, there are cases where the knowledge of other cultures and beliefs may not be enough to convince a patient to get the treatment they need to live. I don’t believe the humanities seek an answer to how to change the minds of others or to stop such situations from happening, but to get a better understanding of people and what they may consider true well being. This definition may not coincide with the physicians definition of well being, but gaining a better understanding of the wishes of patients for their lives can help strengthen the physician-patient relationship.

  6. Kyle Arbuckle says:

    (1) Words matter. How does the language of consumer/provider (as opposed to patient/healthcare professional) have bearing on our discussion about health (il)literacy?

    The distinction between consumer/provider and patient/healthcare professional is incredibly important. Consumer conveys the idea that our health is a material good, and while I understand what others are saying about consumer=power, this is not always the case, especially when we are already stating there is a health literacy epidemic. To simply change the dynamic of the patient/healthcare professional to consumer/provider without addressing the structural inequalities of the system is dangerous. While yes labeling patients as consumers would seem to indicate they have power, it does not address health literacy itself. And in this relationship the healthcare provider is trying to seek maximum gain from the consumer, and as we have discussed in class they are already structurally higher than many consumers. Ultimately, health literacy should be addressed structurally, not individually, because it is evident there is much structural inequality within our health system, not just between doctors and patients.

    (2) How do the humanities help and/or hinder health literacy?

    Humanities help health literacy in a variety of ways. As a political science major, I am constantly looking at how structural inequality should be addressed at, yes, the structure. Obviously, as a political science major I am studying how the government causes and attempts to ameliorate inequality, and health is of course a hot topic in this discussion. The question above is very relevant in many of my classes as we discuss if empowering the individual will help the structure or if addressing the structure will help the individual. So in sum, humanities does help entirely on the discussion of health literacy. Whether one’s ideas are flawed, humanities is another way of thinking about health other than just the raw science. Not that the science is not important, but it is hard to address why there is health literacy, as it mainly address the mechanism within the brain and body of health illiteracy.

  7. Kayleigh Jo Moss says:

    Framing the patient/healthcare professional relationship in terms of consumer and provider totally changes the dynamics between the two. I disagree with Lucky’s statement that consumer/provider language creates an impersonal doctor/patient relationship. Interactions between a consumer and provider infer that two equals are interacting in a way such that there is a mutual benefit. It suggests that the provider is expected to deliver what the consumer needs and the consumer is able to openly communicate those needs and demand that they be met. When the patient is able to openly communicate and feels his role as a consumer is necessary and valuable to the provider, he will most likely feel comfortable enough with his healthcare provider to seek answers and understanding. Likewise, a patient viewing his medications as an investment in his own health will demand explanation and instruction in how to use those medications. A consumer/provider relationship frees the consumer of the lingering paternalism we discussed in class and enables him to play an active role in his own healthcare. This terminology also holds the healthcare provider accountable to ensure that his services and products (medications, treatments, etc.) are used and understood as they were meant to be. This creates better communication and understanding which will increase health literacy. Contrary to Kyle Arbuckle’s opinion that viewing the patient/healthcare provider relationship as a consumer/provider one does not address the structural problems that facilitate health illiteracy, I believe it does. This view inherently changes thee dynamics and interactions between the two and would create a demand for understanding which would, consequently, address the issue of health illiteracy.

    While hard sciences enable us to develop medicines and treatment for disease, they do not address the implementation of their use. The humanities (languages, religion, anthropology, cultural studies, etc.) provide us with the tools to understand one another and analyze various problems like health illiteracy and find solutions. The linguist can give us great insight into the patient/healthcare provider interaction and identify the cultural barriers and lofty syntax that hinders the efficacy of our current healthcare system. The anthropologist can analyze and interpret our current state of health literacy and offer solutions. The political science majors can effect change through political means by introducing new laws and regulations to ensure patients are receiving adequate education and attention to improve health literacy. Real and lasting improvement in health literacy will only occur through an interdisciplinary approach in which many backgrounds, humanities and science alike, come together with a real concern for the quality of healthcare in America.

  8. Amelia Elizabeth Van Pelt says:

    I agree with my colleagues about the importance of word choice and the implications of using the terms consumer/provider instead of patient/healthcare professional. To begin with, the words “consumer” and “provider” remind me of a business transaction that often leads to an impersonal relationship. For example, in the context of a technical product, such as a laptop, the manufacturer (the provider) provides college students (the consumers) with a product but does not meet the students. Furthermore, the provider often cares about the revenue from the product instead of the relationship with the consumer. Therefore, if health care used the terms “consumer” and “provider”, then their business-minded connotations could influence the personal relationships between the patient and the physicians. As a result of the lack of communication between the two parties, issues with health illiteracy could arise. For instance, as one of the article explains, the process of analyzing health literacy must consider an individual’s educational level, cultural factors, and social factors. Thus, establishing familiarity helps to overcome health illiteracy. Moreover, however, a physician may experience difficulties developing the relationship with his or her patients because of the fee-per-service financial arrangement of the health care system in the United States, which sounds more like the consumer/provider relationship instead of the patient/healthcare professional relationship.

    The title of this course exemplifies the influence of the humanities on health, for the humanities humanize health. As Kayleigh articulated perfectly, the humanities provide tools. Through the study of the humanities, a physician would gain the perspective and the skills to understand a patient as a complex human being rather than just a disease. Therefore, one would hope that the physician would communicate with the patient rather than just treat him or her. As a result of the open communication, the problems with health illiteracy would decrease. For example, the patient could feel empowered to ask clarifying questions, which would lead to better health outcomes. In addition, the humanities training would enable the physician to consider an individual’s cultural and social factors when communicating with him or her, which would reduce various barriers to health literacy as well. Moreover, the humanities would train a physician to develop a different perspective on healthcare, which would help to overcome health illiteracy.

  9. Jennifer Becerra says:

    There is a great difference between consumer/provider and patient/health professional, but I disagree with my classmates when they say that the consumer/provider relationship is equal. In that relationship as Kristine said “a consumer is someone looking to buy a product and is hence more likely to shop around and think critically to ensure he is making the best decision. In the process this person becomes more informed and sees an increase in health literacy.” therefore the consumer has more “power” over the provider, since the the consumer knows what they want and the provider must accommodate to the needs of the consumer. In the patient/health professional relationship the tables turn, and it is the health professional who has “power” over the patient. This is so because the patient is going to the health professional without an idea of what they need, they are going to them with an illness and trusting the health professional to give them a product that will heal them. I don’t think that we should bring the patient/health professional relationship down to a consumer/provider one because the patient does not have the expertise to request a certain product (since we must recall that is the reason they are seeking a health professional in the first place). But I also don’t think that we should continue to allow patients to be left in the dark when it comes to something as important as their health. There needs to be an in-between, a relationship in which the professional prescribes medicine to the patient, and the patient is fully aware of what the medicine is for, how it will help, what they shouldn’t do while taking the meds, and of course how many doses and at what time. This relationship doesn’t seem like too much yet it is not being implemented with many patients. The only way to reach this relationship is by good communication and compassion from the health provider to the patient.

    The way that the humanities has helped health literacy is, as my classmates have said beforehand, that the humanities implements a person’s background into the picture such as cultural practices, and religious beliefs. When those are added a professional is better able to understand why a person will or will not take a certain medical measure. It also goes a little further than that in the sense that the humanities don’t make a patient feel inferior or as if their beliefs are simpleminded. They take time to understand them and through compassion accommodate their situation.

  10. Courtni Alexis Andrews says:

    While I agree that words matter and that the use of the terms “consumer” and “provider” should give the ability to promote more equality between a patient and a healthcare professional, I think it suggests too much of a business-like transaction still and can be made to be a bit more stifling because of the weight and gravity of what and how society views healthcare professionals. Words do matter a lot and words weigh differently for people, depending on their story and history, but social norms are powerful and the word “doctor”, even under a different label, can provoke someone to be passive, rather than active, because of what it means and how “valued” doctors are compared to everyone else. I do think the use of the words of consumer and provider do alleviate some of the pressure, but I think it still highlights the differences in their weights, almost to commodity the body if one is not careful. However, the language shift can be more salient if the words work with social norms to support more patients to consume, learn and navigate with their healthcare providers, rather than consume products and ideals from a provider who is already placed higher in the eyes of everyone else. In addition, it will work more when, as everyone has expressed, the whole person, or being, is considered when providing care.

    I think the humanities, for that reason, can help with health literary in that a more common ground can be reached, which has also been expressed in the comments above. It provides the tools and the vantage points to try to meet eye to eye with someone since both the sciences and the humanities should and can work together to really uncover who someone is and what they truly need. I think it is dangerous when one tries to overpower the other, rather than co-existing as they should in the context of health literary. Every person has a story that explains who they are, who they choose to be and how healthcare can be a tool of resiliency for them to continue to do so.

  11. MacKenzie Jill Brosnahan says:

    In the case of a consumer/provider relationship, language plays a key role in what both the consumer and provider expect of one another. We often find that the provider assumes a role of authority or superiority, as they have the good or service that the consumer wants. However, unlike a healthcare provider, other industry providers approach language in a tone that does not so obviously reflect their “superiority.” I believe that in most other fields where there is a provider/consumer relationship – other than the patient/healthcare professional – there is not as much flaunting of a superior status on the side of the provider. For example, if a provider is selling a piece of technology, the consumer must be able to understand the following:
    What is the provider selling/what is the product or service? Why is product important? Why should the consumer should want to purchase the product?
    If the provider does not use language in a way that the consumer understands these questions, the provider will not make a sale; the language used by the provider to describe and promote their product must be understood by the consumer. If there is a circumstance where the consumer is not able to understand the language of the provider, we have an instance of “illiteracy” similar to that of the healthcare “illiteracy” of patients we discussed in class.

    I believe that the humanities help to improve health literacy. We have previously discussed the topic of compassion and how important it is to understand others, and there is a connection between the humanities and the ability to learn about others. As one of my peer previously mentioned, we are unable to answer all medical questions strictly using the hard sciences. Without understanding the context in which patients come from and without some sort of patient/healthcare provider interaction, the subsequent care is not as strong as it would have been if influences from the humanities were taken into consideration. Therefore, with the incorporation of the humanities into healthcare, we begin to look at patients as a whole person. This helps healthcare providers communicate with the patients in a way where both parties understand a common language, thus decreasing healthcare illiteracy.

  12. Olha Seredyuk says:

    1. Words matter. How does the language of consumer/provider (as opposed to patient/healthcare professional) have bearing on our discussion about health (il)literacy?

    Every role has an appropriate type and level of speech that goes along with it. However educated one might be, one has to remember that he or she will not always speak to equals (here I agree with Akanksha). In school, teachers often encourage students to consider their audience, because it will give them a clue about how to best explain something in their essays or speeches. In the same way, healthcare professionals should adjust their speech to be simpler and easier for their patients to understand. Patients are their audience and they are a diverse audience. Often there is not enough time in a healthcare setting to understand if a person understands what he or she hears. Level of literacy is not something that is necessarily apparent in an appointment. Most of the time people might be too embarrassed to admit that they don’t understand. To me, the language of consumer/provider seems to be more stoic, and implies an exchange of information, as opposed to the language of patient/healthcare professional, which can and should focus on sharing information, advice, feelings, etc. To me, consumer/provider is not a relationship – it’s like coming up to the check-out counter in the store, saying hello to the cashier, him or her swiping your items and you paying for them…nothing beyond that. It is assumed in this exchange that the consumer knows exactly what he or she wants, and the provider facilitates the consumer’s purchase without getting too much into the details of why the consumer is getting a certain something, for example. On the other hand, the patient/healthcare professional is a relationship that implies care: care about what a patient receives, why, and how they feel about what they are experiencing at any given time. I also want to end with the comment that the phrase “healthcare professional” bothers me. Before anyone becomes a professional, they are a person. They are human and so their humanity is enough to help another person. While important, “professionalism” shouldn’t take over and be a barrier in relationships with others. I think sometimes the best way we can help someone is to remind them of who they are – they are important, they are valuable, their health is something we care about, we believe in their potential to improve, to succeed, to…etcetera. I often think about how wonderful it is that we can speak to each other and our choice of words, tone, and facial expressions can translate possibility and empowerment.

    2. How do the humanities help and/or hinder health literacy?

    The humanities provide insight into the meaning of life and what it means to be human. What is the importance of our humanity? What are the limits of it, or are we limitless? How can we express it? What is truth and beauty, and what are their values to our shared life? What is a shared life? The humanities build self-awareness, and awareness into the lives of others. By studying the humanities, people may achieve moral and intellectual capacity by being encouraged to experiment in terms of what skills and methods can be used to examine the world and what kind of questions to ask (not necessarily in an empirical way). Humanities are interested in developing a person that uses reason as well as compassion, and therefore are focused on asking hard questions about how humanity has been shaped by, and how it has shaped the environment, and how to work and get along in that environment. A very important concept in the humanities is the concept of relationship and how humans relate to other humans. This directly implies that the humanities explore the nuances of human relationships, human culture, and human connection, which include how we communicate with one another and how we share our thoughts and feelings. Therefore, this is how humanities help health literacy – they provide an awareness of how we – a diverse people – can interpret information and how this information can be best presented to be valuable and noticed to serve a good purpose. One example of this is an awareness of how people read a pillbox or prescription label. It’s hard to make sense of what’s important on there, as we have come to find out. I really enjoyed learning how Dr. Parker is working on developing a simpler blueprint for such labels so all the information about taking the medication will be clearly communicated. Honestly, I really cannot think about how the humanities may contribute to health illiteracy. I believe that they train us in compassion and understanding, which can only enhance our competence and help us lead more balanced, meaningful lives.

  13. Farida says:

    Language creates assumptions and expectations. It also creates barriers. Olha makes a great statement by introducing the idea that each profession and role has different linguistic aspects including vocabulary,differences in pronunciations, definitions, and abbreviations. The language of the patient or patient’s family is affected by more than just the level of general education and medical knowledge. when a patient or a patient’s family is addressed by a doctor, they are overwhelmed many times by the suffering and emotions they are experiencing, which decreases a person’s ability to make connections and understand reasons of treatments, the actions involved in taking care of the patient, or diagnoses of certain illnesses. This was best exemplified in the article we read last week, regarding the daughter, who has charged to take care of her mother, who had just experienced a stroke. Language of the consumer and the provider as opposed to the patient and the healthcare professional is less compassionate. When a consumer and a provider are exchanging in dialogue, a need is met by a product or service. This is this the beginning and the end of the transaction. When a patient is speaking with a healthcare professional, we expect there to be a sense of sincerity and compassion. It’s hopefully a more long-term, helpful relationship.

    The humanities greatly improve health literacy. Illness narratives, for example, provide written evidences of experiences between patients and health care providers. People generally always feel the basic six emotions, and within the humanities, we learn how to express them and convey them to others. The humanities provide tools for improving health literacy and reaching a common ground, or a commonly understood language like many of my colleagues stated before. There are also ways that the humanities can hinder health literacy. One way is that from the humanities, healthcare providers can learn how to be compassionate toward their patients, but this perhaps decreases the amount of empathy a doctor may experience for a patient. For doctors to thrive and make decisions, there’s no doubt that they would need to be detached to a certain extent. However, with this detachment and language gap, is it possible that doctors end up devaluing certain emotions because too many of their patients experience them? Do the humanities create an idealized standard of language between patients and doctors, and if so, does this dampen the meaning of words?

  14. Emily Monika Pieper says:

    When it comes to clear communication between a patient and healthcare professional, the language and words used matter immensely. The ability of doctors and medical professionals to use clear, non-medical language to clearly and effectively inform their patients is a skill that seems to be lacking in our healthcare system today. As we saw in the video on health illiteracy in America, the average American may not be able to understand what their doctors are telling them which can lead to serious health consequences. As my colleagues have previously stated in their comments, the distinction between the consumer/provider and the patient/healthcare professional is an important one. If doctors were to treat people more as patients and less as consumers, then I think that patients would begin to feel a stronger bond of compassion between themselves and their doctors. By using simpler words that a wider array of the population can understand, doctors and patients would be able to form a mutual bond of trust. Doctors would be reassured that what they are saying is being understood, and patients will gain confidence in their doctors by really comprehending what they are being told. This in turn could lead to more effective medical treatments since patients would be able to properly take their medications and follow their doctor’s recommendations.

    The humanities offer a different path to improving health literacy. I volunteered at a local nursing home and I assisted a therapist who had used both music and horticulture as means of providing therapy for the residents. It was very intriguing to see how these less “science-y” medical treatments helped patients learn about their health conditions and how to remedy them. In general, the humanities are beneficial to improving health literacy because they are able to take incomprehensible medical jargon and turn it into something (whether it be a dance performance, a sculpture, a photograph, or a song) that more people can understand. By enabling people to understand and view health in different forms, health literacy can be improved.

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