Enhancing Communication Related to Symptom Management Through Plain Language


Context Symptom management is a key dimension of palliative care. In addition to aspects such as assessment and pharmacological management of symptoms, professionals also require communication skills to effectively manage symptoms in serious illness. Objectives Application of the Plain Language Planner for Palliative Care©, a provider tool for communicating about medication and symptoms using plain language, was tested. Methods Approximately 75% of the 155 health care professionals, mostly nurses, who participated in a before-and-after educational activity about the tool, provided written communication explanations using one of three medication-symptom pairs: senna for constipation, amitriptyline for nerve pain, and lorazepam for anxiety. Responses were coded for plain language characteristics: active voice, second person, use of jargon, brief sentences, reading level, and easy to understand data phrasing. Frequency counts for coding categories were calculated and compared across medication-symptom pairs before and after the education session. Results A comparison between written responses before and after the education session showed improvement in the use of plain language. Overall, plain language scores were highest for communication about senna (81%), followed by amitriptyline (72%) and lorazepam (77%). Across all three medication-symptom pairs, the greatest improvement in the use of plain language occurred in the use of jargon. Conclusion Provider training with the tool produced increased plain language. Use of the tool in provider education shows promise in increasing the health literacy for patients and families regarding symptom management.

Publication Title

Journal of Pain and Symptom Management