Study: More than Half Can’t Find Heart on Diagram

I reported in a June 12th blog post entitled “Many ‘Baffled’ by Basic Anatomy” that many British citizens are unable to identify the location of their vital organs.     The study addressed this as a serious concern for doctor-patient communications.

CNN has picked up on the story Survey: More than half can’t find heart on body diagram” Lead author of the British Study,  John Weinman, Ph.D., addressed the issue compared with the United States.   Quoting the CNN piece -“Weinman says he wouldn’t be surprised if a study based in the United States produced similar results — or worse. “I imagine they would be similar, but there could well be regional variation, depending on which part of the U.S. the participants were from,” he says. “Actually, I asked one of my colleagues, who is from the U.S., and she felt that Americans might be worse because, to quote her, ‘Very many Americans don’t even know where New Jersey is, so how would they know where their pancreas is?'” Health.com: Eat Smarter in your 30s, 40s, and 50s <http://living.health.com/2008/02/28/your-nutrition-needs-aging/>

That may sound harsh, but time and again, U.S. studies have shown that doctors overestimate how much their patients understand about their conditions and treatment.”

Since then there have been several posts on the Health Literacy Listserv commenting further with some interesting observations.     Several are included here…

“Practically speaking, no, a patient does not need to be able to point to where the heart is in a diagram to be healthy, but what the article is touching on are what I see as key issues:

1. In health education we often rely on diagrams of the body to convey meaning or assist in our descriptions

2. Providers often convey information in a medical sequence model, which starts with disease specifics/statistics, then physiology and anatomy, and then disease specifics.  This is not patient friendly, and based upon this study, is more detrimental than we originally thought.

3. The fact that so many people are unable to locate a heart on a diagram says more about general knowledge that we assume/take for granted.  One does not need to be able to know how to read well in order to identify pictures in a diagram.  So this effects far more people than just those who have difficulty reading.”                                                                                                                         posted on 6/16 by Susan M Kanack


“A related concern is the degree to which education materials assume patients understand how the body works (as opposed to knowing what different organs look like).

We provide medical support to children who are medically fragile and technology dependent.  It is not enough for us to simply explain processes to reduce catheter related blood stream infections (for patients with indwelling catheters) without also clearly stating the assumptions medical people are making about why clean or sterile procedures are necessary.  If we do not explain the context for the need for clean or sterile procedures, the importance of following the process is not apparent.  In this example, we are assuming a caregiver understands that there are such things as germs and they cause illness, and that they are invisible, are everywhere, and can be easily transmitted by touch.  We are also assuming they understand veins, the movement of blood to the heart, etc.  The risks of not stating the assumptions underlying instructions can be magnified in working with some refugees. ”       posted on 6/17 by Cathleen Urbain, Ph.D.,Patient Advocacy


This is  “food for thought” on a Friday.    Have a good weekend everyone!


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