Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Christmas 2017: Language and Literacy

Santa’s little helpers: a novel approach to developing patient information leaflets

BMJ 2017; 359 doi: (Published 13 December 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;359:j5565

Re: Santa’s little helpers: a novel approach to developing patient information leaflets

Santa’s Little Helpers: A Novel approach to developing information leaflets.

It is very rare that reading a scientific medical journal one smiles the large hearted smile and the article in Language and literacy titled “Santa’s Little Helpers- A novel approach to developing information leaflet” did just that.
I agreed with Maria and Sarah when they nudged us to use, “You could get a blood clot, a hip infection and chest infection” and say as it is. It makes me wonder why information leaflet and consent forms are filled with medical jargon even though we may vehemently refuse to agree; Is it the fixation with brevity? Or is the discomfort inherited with the medical degree when it comes to delivering news that breaks the “doctor-saviour” image? How could I possibly tell you that even when I lay my God Kissed Scalpel on your body , there is a chance that you may develop a hematoma?
Another reflection I engaged in after reading the piece, hours later while feeding my cat was about our fixation with medical terms. We are the people who cannot imagine our lives before becoming doctors, we were either preparing to become a doctor or training to be a doctor and then living being a doctor. We are the people who let Latin infuse our writing and everyday speaking as we let the alien but exciting words roll on our tongue. I, many a times find myself using words like “Haemorrhaged” while describing culinary disasters!
Many parts of your articles are like after taste of cinnamon chewed long ago. Of particular interest to me as a palliative physician, is what Muhammad said about, “...the threat of dying is real.” Death is the word that is replaced with many euphemisms by society in general and the medical community in particular. Our hesitancy around it costs a steep price for our patients and their families who will chew up their questions and gulp it down. Because of this hesitancy perpetuated by us, ones involved with the care of the body’s functions, even vital matters like advance Directives become difficult and unacceptable topics of discussion.
I have had the chance to host Death cafes in Schools to listen to what children think and talk about Death. While I was simultaneously balancing both a brave front in front of my colleagues and self doubt about this “bold” decision, the children seemed to be at ease. They turned out to be more thoughtful and observative than we adults give them credit for.
The suggestion made that we involve the children in helping us make the information leaflet is important as it will make us question our possessiveness about Disease information and treatment options, that which we believe is carefully handed down as an entitlement only of the medical community .It is this unconscious belief which makes us implicitly communicate that the information is “complex” and “serious” and sometimes renders us to deliver incomplete information.
Information leaflets designed by children also breaks the mind block among lay people who refuse to engage with their health and take ownership, which is all too common in The Indian subcontinent used to paternalistic approach to medicine. Suddenly with this, the ailment, the procedure becomes less threatening, more approachable; One can gather courage and peep to have a look.
Whether or not these children end up in Medical colleges as suggested in the last paragraph, they will grow to be the watchful whistle blowers keeping the healthcare community on their toes and imbibe the society with , “Nothing is too big” spirit.
Dr Sneha M Rooh
Dr Smitha Asthana
Dr Satyanarayana L

Competing interests: No competing interests

04 January 2018
Satyanarayana Labani
Palliative Physician
Dr Smitha Asthana, DR Satyanaratyana L
ICMR-NICPR Noida, India.