This podcast series was the subject of a recent article in the Journal of Consumer Health on the Internet. This is cool in its own right, especially because the article is about disrupting deficit perspectives.
But what’s even better is the warm reception it’s gotten from people around the health sector. Find out what the article’s about, and why this is another hopeful sign of some building momentum behind taking meaningful action on health equity.
I’ve been looking forward to today’s episode because I had an article published about this podcast series, and I’m excited to tell you about it because it’s been really well-received! So yeah we’re going to do a podcast episode, about a journal article, about the very same podcast series. Very meta!
Hi everybody. This is 10 Minutes to Better Patient Communication from Health Communication Partners and I’m Dr. Anne Marie Liebel. Today’s episode sponsored by Maven Roth Group who thanks our Healthcare Heroes for their hard work during this difficult time. Maven Roth can help take some of the work off your already full plate, because they’ve been teaming up with hospitals and practices for years, helping them communicate with their audiences through print social media and more. Now let Maven Roth help you create and share your covid-19 messaging. Visit Mavenroth.com today.
So first of all I’m going to thank the editors at the Journal of Consumer Health on the Internet for their support and their help in writing this article. It was fun for me to think about the audience for the article as folks who had probably never heard this show before. But because it’s a public health Journal, I could assume some things. Like, they care about Health Equity. It’s the Journal of Consumer Health in the Internet, so they’re caring about digital Health and digital Health Equity. And I thought, well, gosh. There’s so many places I could go with communication and education. So I took my time to think: what’s one thing I could tell them about the show, that cuts across the series, that gives a good idea of what the show is about, but also is going to be helpful to them in their contexts. So, and as you know public health is such a varied field, so this was not easy to do!
And you know, you know that this show is the place where I take up questions and problems that Professionals in the health sector have raised. Sometimes they’re the listeners to the show, sometimes they’re my Consulting clients, sometimes they are people in other conversations in the sector that I’m a part of. And when those questions or problems related to language use, literacy, communication, education, I dig into those questions. And i’ll bring some research in, and then end with something that people can do with their next patient, their next client, or their next project. And I do it all in 10 minutes or so.
Because I work with folks across the health sector, and because the people who listen to the show are also from pretty varied professional backgrounds, I try my best to stick to what will be applicable across contexts. Which is not easy to do! I do better at it at times than others. But I was kind of in the same boat when writing this article, and thinking, what’s one thing I could tell them about the show that’s going to be relevant to the audience for the journal?
It took me some time, but I landed on deficit perspectives. I talk about them a lot in the show, right. What they are, how to spot them, what they look and sound like, where they show up. Now in case you missed those episodes, this relates to seeing people as, well, lacking. As in deficit. Empty containers to be filled, Freire says. Passive recipients. It can relate to maintaining a focus on what a person or group doesn’t understand, doesn’t do, don’t have. What their situation lacks. What it seems the community can’t provide. So any focus that’s limited to negative instances can constitute a deficit perspective. They’re very important in healthcare –and they’re important in education too– because they can do a lot of damage. And they’re sneaky. They can be tricky to spot, right?
And right now at, I mean I’m hearing a lot of people across the health sector being very conscious of their language. Which we usually are! But right now I think it’s getting a lot of attention. And this is great. You’re flagging words and terms, that you’re like: this term is discriminatory. I’m not going to use it anymore. Super! This is important! Words matter! Part of why they matter is what they point to. More than the words themselves, this thinking underneath the words. Because often it’s not just a matter of, “well, okay what, what kind of word can we use instead?” It’s about looking at the thinking behind that word that led us to use it in the first place.
I’m going to argue you can’t do Health Equity work unless you’re willing to pay this kind of attention to your language. It’s not just the words; it’s the assumptions underneath those terms and phrases. The patterns of thinking behind them that hold it all together. That’s where deficit perspectives come in, right. Because they have a real social effects.
And I haven’t talked about this enough in the past: people who look at literacy and language the way that I do, we approach the language as a structure. As a durable structure. As a social structure. And if you want to talk about structural inequalities, some of these inequalities are created and maintained through language. And that’s why this kind of analysis of language is important to Health Equity.
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Deficit perspectives in particular are helpful to focus on and look for, because one, it’s something we can all do, right? We can work with this! Each one of us, right now, can start being more aware of how deficit perspectives can exist in our own interpersonal communication. It is also important to be able to spot them in organizations. Like I said language is a durable, social structure. So deficit perspectives can show up in policies. They can show up in practices. Because all of these words and phrases add up to these larger, more formal discourses which are very powerful!
We’re seeing them in the news now, but we’ve known from the research base for more than 20 years that words and phrases and terms used by health professionals with patients in the public do contribute directly to health disparities. That’s why a lot of my clients want my help. It’s usually about more Equitable use of language and more Equitable ways to think about language. Not just, “how can I switch out terms?” It’s like, “how can I be more Equitable in communication? How can I be more Equitable in education?” At whatever they want to do better at, whether it’s patient communication–unsurprisingly given the name of the series, right?—or, I work on the content and images in digital Health tools, or a company’s overall Health Equity strategy. So if you’re in healthcare, digital health, or Public Health, and your organization needs help with bringing communication and education in line with your Equity goals, please write me. This is what I do!
So in this article, talking about deficit perspective let me get into talking about bias, microaggressions, ethnocentrism. I get to put in excerpts from the interviews which was awesome! And I end on a hopeful note, not surprisingly, with things that people can do.
I’m especially happy to tell you about the fact that I’ve had the nicest response to this article! This makes me super happy, because this is for us, right? The show wouldn’t exist without you! It’s based on the problems and questions I hear from you, and from my clients on the other health Pros that I’m talking to. But let me tell you, the fact that this article has been read 120 times as of this afternoon, but y’know, who’s checking, it makes me think it’s catching people’s attention. I think it might be hitting a nerve, too, because of the emails that i’ve gotten. I’ve gotten emails from folks in multiple countries. And they’re researchers, they’re Educators, they’re students, they’re clinicians. And they’re jazzed, I’m telling you! Like, they’re sending me their work! They’re going, “You’re talking about like health communication and health literacy. We’re not talking about that, but we’re saying similar things! We’re making similar points in our disciplines!”
And this is what I’m most excited about. Because I think we’re onto something here, folks! This kind of chance we have for maybe getting a critical mass of folks paying attention and taking action to advance Health Equity in their practices, in their companies, and their organizations. Seeing Health Equity is something that is core to their strategy. Not a warm fuzzy: a way of working. As a friend of mine likes to say, a lens through which every decision must be viewed. And as one of my favorite of responses that I got, an email, someone said: “yeah, it’s about time!”
This is 10 minutes to Better Patient Communication from Health Communication Partners. Written hosted by me, Dr. Anne Marie Liebel. Audio engineering and music by Joe Liebel.