Nine months ago, I visited my doctor for a routine check-up. At the time I didn’t realise the impact that one visit would have on my life, the company I co-founded and my view of how we communicate conditions.
For the post-part, my appointment was extremely normal. I had my height and weight taken, a blood test, I answered some questions and then I had my blood pressure taken.
My doctor looked at me… ‘I’m going to take another reading, the figure seems high’
My blood pressure was taken again. 146 over 75 the numbers on the screen read. Two numbers I had no understanding of at the time, and unless you have either a medical degree or hypertension, the chances are you won’t know what they mean either.
All my doctor told me was to come back for a second reading in a week. That was it. No additional information.
By the time I’d left the building, anxiety about my health was already starting to set in. I was sat asking myself, ‘How could I have high blood pressure?’ - I exercise five times a week, eat clean, and am a healthy weight.
I went back, one week later having tried not to do too much googling, crossing my fingers and hoping it was just an exception. Unfortunately that was not the case and it was confirmed I had isolated systolic hypertension. A form of high blood pressure.
My doctor was empathetic and mentioned some terms I should look into, which I hastily noted on my phone. I then left the office with just a jumbled mess of text on my notes app with medical terminology that was horribly misspelled. I had so many questions.
What did this actually mean? How has/does this affect my health? Will I die early? What can I do?
I went to google, read twitter threads and even watch TikToks from doctors. It took a long time to find accurate information that actually answered my question. A lot of googling medical terms and alot of unneccesary anxiety. It was only a few months later I really came to terms with my diagnosis and felt as though I had a good understanding of how this would affect me.
8 months later, I take a small pill every morning, have adopted some lifestyle changes based on my learnings and further chats with my doctor, and my blood pressure is now controlled. But I had one key takeaway…
The way that we communicate diseases with patients needs to change!
Chronic conditions are on the rise
I’m not alone in my story. 133 million Americans (45% of the population) suffer from at least one chronic disease, and the number is growing. [source]
That’s 133 million people in the U.S alone who have all been anxious about their condition and in all likelihood weren’t given the support and resources they needed to understand their condition.
Content isn’t working
I often speak to primary care physicians and ask, ‘when you diagnose someone with a condition, what information do you give them?’
The answers vary from:
1. Signposting them to a website
2. A pamphlet they have lying around
3. Printing an article
4. Speaking to the patient in the office (the most common answer)
The problem with this? When 40-80% of the medical information provided by doctors is forgotten by the time the patient leaves the door, we put too much of the onus on patients!
Even once you leave a doctor's office, you’ve forgotten the name of the website your doctor mentioned. You may have a pamphlet with long clinical-sounding words you don’t understand, and more importantly, it’s really boring! Note to doctors: If you want patients to learn about their conditions, don’t put it in a pdf or pamphlet!
Content is also too complex.
The average American is considered to have a readability level equivalent to a 7th/8th grader (12 to 14 years old).
When the average reading age is 12-14, how can you expect a patient who spent only 30 minutes with their doctor to understand their condition to the necessary standard?
I did my own test by randomly selecting five articles on common conditions from the top health education websites: WedMD, CDC, and Healthline. Each article was put through a readability calculator to check the average reading age and grade level.
The reading ages varied from 8th Grade (CDC article) to college graduate level (WebMD)
Statistically, those with lower reading levels in the US and worldwide markets are generally the most vulnerable populations. These populations tend to be economically disadvantaged, ethnic minorities, the uninsured, the elderly, the homeless, and those with mental health issues.
We need to create an inclusive and relatable learning experience, with the patient front of mind. By not doing so, we are perpetuating preventable diseases and people are dying.
Our goal is to educate patients, reduce disparities & prevent disease
At Sanctuary Health, we create ready-to-use health content that we then license to health businesses (digital health platforms, insurers, hospitals, employers) so that their users & patients can be better educated on their conditions. Our goal is to create a healthier world through content. Our guiding principles include:
- Patient first
Everything we do, no matter how big or small, is contributing to improving the outcomes of the patients we serve.
- Clinical accuracy
In a world, where as much as 50% of online medical info is inaccurate [source], providing up-to-date and accurate information is vital. We have an incredible clinical team around us every step of the way.
- Video over PDFs
For too long, health education has focused on long-form written content. The data is out there. Shorter form video leads to the highest levels of information retention and engagement. We are video first and ensure additional info (such as scripts) makes the content accessible for everyone.
- Diversity in talent
Patients not only feel more comfortable but have better outcomes when interacting with medical professional who are like them. Whether that be age, gender or ethnicity, we ensure this is a priority in all of the content we produce.
We can’t expect those suffering from conditions to be medical experts. We must be empathetic and ensure that the content is undestood. This means multiple languages and subtitles… and ensuring our scripts and articles are understandable to the average person - not the average college graduate!
As patients leverage more digital tools and there is a shift to omni-channel care, education is going to play a key part in empowering individuals to manage their health.
Written by James Naylor (Co-Founder)
If any of the above resonated, you want to learn more or just chat digital health, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org