Articles

On Call magazine was published by Boston Globe Media, a division of the Boston Globe. For ten years I was privileged to write a monthly column called "In Other Words..." My columns focused on some aspect of health communication or patient education. Alas, the magazine ceased publication on March 31, 2009.  

Below are about 100 of my columns. They are listed in chronological order. You can search by clicking "Articles by Topic" on the left navigation bar or entering key words in the box on the top right. For reprint permission, please contact me at helen@healthliteracy.com    

Talking Health to Men

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, March 27, 2009 

The differences between men and women go beyond anatomy and physiology. One very important difference is the way men and women take in, process, and use health information. This article looks at why more work is needed to bring men into dialogues about health along with recommendations to help.

Project RED: The Reengineered Hospital Discharge Program

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, February 24, 2009 

Problems at transitions of care -- times when one group of providers stops treating a patient and another group starts -- are not uncommon. The most frequent transition occurs when patients go from hospital to home, happening nearly 40 million times each year. Many problems can, and do, happen along the way. This article highlights a system to help.

Working With Lawyers to Make Health Information Clear

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, January 29, 2009 

I often lead plain language workshops, teaching clinicians and other health communicators how to convey health messages more clearly. Almost always, participants "get" what to do and leave my workshops with the skills they need to begin writing health documents in plain language. But before they go, someone invariably asks, "What can we do about those lawyers?" This article helps answer that question.

Pediatric Cough and Cold Medicine: Helping Patients Make Sense of Information from the FDA

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, December 31, 2008 

Your 5-year-old daughter wakes up in the middle of the night, sniffling and coughing. You want her to feel better and help everyone in the house get back to sleep. So you give her a dose of over-the-counter cough and cold medicine. But is giving this medicine really a good idea? The answer isn’t exactly clear. This article looks at ways clinicians might help parents make sense of what they see and hear and protect their children’s well-being. 

Health and Health Literacy Information Resources From the NLM

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, December 4, 2008 

The NLM is part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. It is the largest medical library in the world and contains numerous databases and electronic resources. A PubMed search, though, can return an overwhelming list of resources. This article highlights ways to narrow searches so users can more quickly find the specific materials they need. 

Talking With Patients About Touchy Subjects

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, November 13, 2008 

Sexual dysfunction, depression, and abuse are only a few of the many "touchy" topics patients find hard to bring up to their healthcare providers. But these very problems could actually be at the root of what is happening to them medically. This article highlights ways healthcare professionals can help patients who have touchy subjects to explore.

Tools of change: Telling and listening to stories

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, October 16, 2008 

Storytelling is certainly not new. But it is something that we’ve overlooked. Our renewed interest may be at least partly due to a problem with the way we communicate. In an age of email, instant messaging, texting, and podcasts, everyone is so focused on communication efficiency that it’s easy to lose sight of communication effectiveness. This article highlights ways to use stories as tools of change in a variety of settings.

Necessary Programs

By Joseph Saling, On Call Magazine Editor
October 9, 2008

Letter from the Editor that highlights 10 years of Health Literacy Month accomplishments.

Using text messages to improve medication adherence

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, September 18, 2008 

The teenager’s cell phone rang telling him he was getting a text message. He opened it and read, “Hi. Remember to take your medication.” Then he closed his phone and went back to whatever it was he was doing. And oh yes, he also took his asthma medication. This article includes specifics about how this text messaging program works and what steps professionals can take to implement it.

Using comics to communicate your health message

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, August 21, 2008 

Kapow! What a novel idea! Comics that tell health stories to get word out about important health issues! Comics use both pictures and words to tell stories. This stimulates both sides of the brain simultaneously so readers get a double whammy of images and phrases. This article highlights ways comics can help convey important health messages.

Bridging Literacy and Language Differences for Better Health Outcomes

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, July 24, 2008 

Providers today are treating more patients from outside the U.S. who speak no English whatsoever. Many of these patients come with a sincere desire to get health problems taken care of but literacy or language problems stand in the way.  This article looks at ways all healthcare professionals can bridge literacy and language differences. 

Questions Are the Answer to Helping Patients Understand Their Health

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, June 26, 2008 

“Questions Are the Answer” is an upbeat, musical consumer campaign that encourages patients to ask questions. The intent is important: to reduce the number of preventable harms happening to patients each year. This article includes information about this free campaign and how to incorporate it into your daily practice.  

Communicating Health Information Through Community Coalitions

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, June 5, 2008 

Making health information clear is not always easy. Getting this information to the people who need it can be even harder. Sometimes, the best way of doing both is to form a community coalition. This article includes tips to do just that.

Using Visuals and Other Creative Tools to Make Health Messages Clear

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, May 9, 2008 

People everywhere put information in “mental boxes” of understanding. No matter where they live or what culture they are from, people use these boxes to make sense of unfamiliar concepts, words, and pictures. This article includes lessons from around the world about creative ways health communicators can meet teaching challenges.   

Abbreviations, Acronyms, and Other Healthcare Shorthand

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, April 10, 2008 

Abbreviations and acronyms serve as a form of shorthand, helping to quickly communicate complicated, multi-syllabic terms that may be difficult to say, spell, and remember. They can be efficient when talking with colleagues or entering data into charts and computers. But abbreviations and acronyms can also lead to confusion. This article includes ways to help.

Using Music and Song as Tools of Health Communication

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, March 24, 2008 

Songs are being used today to educate people in the West African country of Benin about health behavior, in Mexico for prenatal care, and in Bolivia to teach how boiling water and washing hands can help prevent cholera. While music may not be as widely used in the United States, there are many ways it could be. This article includes suggestions for musical and nonmusical clinicians alike.  

Helping Patients Separate True Health Information From False

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, February 28, 2008 

It’s common for people to recall false information as true. For people to remember information accurately, they need to recall both the “claim” — the core piece of information — and its “context” — the situation in which they heard it. Often, these details get lost. This article has strategies to help. 

Actively Listening for What Patients Do Not Say

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, January 31, 2008 

You’ve just finished teaching a patient about his new medication. You focused on only a few key points and clearly explained why, how, and when he should take it. Then you asked the patient to teach-back (restate) what you just discussed. Is that enough? Maybe not. This article looks at active listening — the value of paying attention to what people don’t say as much as to what they do.

A Passion for Communication: Occupational therapist Helen Osborne advocates for health literacy

Advance for Occupational Therapy Practitioners
January 2008, Vol. 24 •Issue 2 • Page 20
By Sandy Keefe

As founder and president of Health Literacy Consulting in Natick, MA, Helen Osborne, MEd, OTR/L, focuses on health literacy—helping health professionals and health care organizations communicate in ways patients, families and employees can understand. This article looks at her journey from practicing therapist to creating a business focused solely on health literacy. 

How Memory Affects Health Understanding

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, January 10, 2008 

Working memory is just one of three types of memory — the other two being short-term memory and long-term memory — and people can have problems with any of them, especially as they age. When that happens, those problems can affect an individual’s ability to comprehend health information. This article includes ways to make the information patients need more memorable.

Screening for Health Literacy Using the Newest Vital Sign

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, December 11, 2007 

What does a pint of ice cream have to do with health literacy? Quite a lot, according to Barry D. Weiss, MD. He and colleagues designed a nutritional label from an ice-cream container to create a literacy screening tool for health information called the Newest Vital Sign (NVS). This article answers questions many people ask about the NVS.  

Confirming Understanding With the Teach-Back Technique

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, November 20, 2007 

You just prescribed a potent drug that could be very helpful for your patient’s condition. But as she leaves your office, you question whether this patient really understands the instructions you just gave. The teach-back technique is a proven way to assess and confirm understanding. This article includes ways to make it a routine part of your practice. 

Using Graphics and Humor to Convey Healthcare Essentials

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, October 23, 2007 

The truth is that few people read posters that have too many words and diagrams crammed on one page. Instead, there needs to be some type of a “hook” to draw people in. This article highlights ways that healthcare professionals can communicate important health messages using graphics, color, humor, or a combination of visual and text elements.

Curious George Brings Health Literacy to the Classroom

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, October 2, 2007 

October is Health Literacy Month, a time when health literacy advocates around the world ― including Curious George and a dedicated group of volunteers in Florida ― promote the importance of making health information understandable. This article highlights how one program advocates year round for health literacy. 

Health Numeracy: How Do Patients Handle the Concept of Quantity When It Relates to Their Health?

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, September 18, 2007 

Health numeracy includes a broad spectrum of quantitative concepts. Many of these are abstract, not concrete or visible. Quantitative information is hard for many people to understand yet is prevalent throughout healthcare. This article includes suggestions to help healthcare providers more clearly communicate such information.     

Health Communication Half a World Away

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, September 4, 2007 

Health literacy is a worldwide concern as providers everywhere strive to communicate health information more clearly. The universality of this challenge became more real to me during a recent visit to Indermark, a rural village in northern South Africa. This article includes my perspective of what health literacy is all about.

Talking with Patients about Integrative Therapies

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, August 21, 2007 

Many patients use traditional or non-prescribed remedies that range from putting aloe on minor skin infections to taking herbals or antioxidants for late-stage cancer. Numerous studies have shown that very few who do (considerably less than half) ever discuss these remedies with their healthcare providers. This article looks at this phenomenon and includes ways healthcare providers can help.

When Providers Are Patients

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, July 24, 2007 

Most of us in healthcare choose to do this work because we care about people and want to help others. Some call this being “other-centered.” But should illness or injury happen, and we become the ones who need care, our perspectives may radically change. This article highlights one viewpoint about how personal experience affects professional practice. 

Use Language Your Patients Understand
Written by Roxanna Guilford-Blake. This article appears in the August 2007 issue of Private Practice Success, a HealthLeaders Media publication. Helen Osborne was quoted extensively throughout this article.
How to Help Patients Manage Their Action Planning

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, June 26, 2007 

Patients, not providers, are ultimately responsible for the day-to-day management of their own chronic condition. But figuring out what to do and being consistent about doing it is hard for almost everyone. This article outlines principles to make sure patients follow through with their self-care plans.

What Healthcare Settings Can Learn from Zoos about Signage and Wayfinding

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, May 29, 2007 

Oddly enough, health literacy came to mind when I recently visited the elephant house at a zoo. I had a question about the exhibit and then suddenly noticed the answer on a sign right in front of me. It was so well placed it made me wonder what we in healthcare might learn from signage at zoos. This article looks at just that.

When Patients and Providers Talk About Health

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, May 2007 

Health communication can be difficult for everyone. Healthcare providers and patients alike may struggle to communicate clearly, and both can walk away from conversations unsure they understand what was said or were understood themselves. This article focuses on ways that patients and providers can work together to improve health communication at all phases of treatment and care.   

Helping Patients Understand Healthcare Costs

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, April 2007 

While many providers agree it is important to talk with patients about healthcare costs, they are not equally clear about whose job it is to do so. All health professionals can help and this article includes suggestions for ways to get started.

Talking About the Media

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, January/February 2007 

Health stories that appear in the mass media (e.g. television, radio, Internet sites, newspapers, magazines) can be beneficial or they can be harmful and confusing. This article includes a number of strategies that health providers can use to stay informed and help patients deal with what they see in the media.

Helping Patients Ask Questions

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, November/December 2006 

 “Do you have any questions?” the provider asks. The patient shakes her head, indicating “no.” While the provider might assume this response means he did a good job communicating, the patient may think this is a polite way of not saying how confused she really is. This article includes practical strategies to make this task easier for all.

Making a Bottom-Line Case for Health Literacy

 By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, September/October 2006

Patients are expected to actively participate in treatment and care despite their health status, life stressors, or literacy level. This article includes lessons one health team learned about ways to improve patient communication and health outcomes while also paying attention to their organization’s bottom line.

What Makes Presentations Good?

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, July/August 2006

As a healthcare professional, you’ve no doubt participated in enough professional and community-based conferences to know that not all presentations are equally interesting. Whether you are an audience member or a speaker, this article includes ways to get the most out of presentations.

Communicating When Naked: My Perspective as a Patient

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, May/June 2006

As an occupational therapist and health-literacy consultant, talking about health and other medical matters had always been easy for me. But after a routine test turned out not to be so routine, I now had to communicate as a patient. This article includes some lessons learned to help patients and providers better communicate with one another. 

Boost Health Literacy through Effective Use of Visual Aids

By Debra Beaulieu
The Physician's Advisory's Private Practice Success, June 2006
Reprinted with permission of HCPro, www.hcpro.com 

Using visuals aids with your patients can often save you words -- and make those that you say more meaningful. In this article, Helen Osborne and others suggest ways to do so.
Speaking With Colleagues

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, March/April 2006

While healthcare providers need to communicate clearly with patients and their family, it’s equally important that colleagues understand one another. This article highlights three perspectives on colleague-to-colleague communication.

Health Literacy: How Visuals Can Help Tell the Healthcare Story (PDF)

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
Journal of Visual Communication in Medicine, March 2006
Reprinted with permission of Taylor & Francis Group, http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals

The healthcare story is an important one. It includes essential information about how to access and pay for treatment, follow medical instructions, provide consent, or recognize emergencies and know what to do when they occur. This article includes ways that visuals help patients completely and correctly understand potentially life-saving information.

Actions Can Speak as Clearly as Words

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, January/February 2006 

Facial expressions, tone of voice, body language, and even how you deal with interruptions or distractions all have an impact on health communication. This article includes suggestions for making the most of nonverbal actions when communicating important health information.

Health Communication and Patient Safety

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, October 2005

Errors can happen when, for whatever reason, patients and providers do not communicate clearly. This article includes ways to communicate important health information effectively and safely.

Clearing a Path: Helping Patients Understand Medical-Legal Information

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, September 2005

Patients are routinely asked to sign informed-consent documents, create healthcare proxies and advance directives, read and attest to their understanding of HIPAA materials, or deal with a number of other medical-legal documents. This article includes strategies that health professionals can use to more clearly explain medical-legal information to their patients.

What Makes Web Sites

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, July 2005

Patients and their families may find just as many reasons to go to the Internet as to the doctor or the pharmacy. This article includes tips and strategies for making Web sites that are easy to navigate, easy to learn from, and otherwise patient-friendly.

Calm and Clear: How to Communicate in the Midst of Public Chaos

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, June 2005

Imagine a peaceful, ordinary day that suddenly turns chaotic. A railroad car has rolled over and is spilling toxic vapors into the air. Your job as a health communicator is to get information out to your audience about what just happened, instruct them what to do, and provide reassurance, if appropriate, that the situation is under control. This article includes insights and suggestions about how to do just that.

Communicating Bad and Sad News

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call magazine, May/June 2005

Communicating with patients, families, or clients about upsetting or unexpected issues is a challenge for all healthcare professionals. And few healthcare professionals are trained to communicate bad or sad news well. This article includes experiences, examples, and lessons learned.

Listening to Your Audience: How to Get Reader Feedback

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, March/April 2005


You just wrote a new patient-education document. But will your intended readers understand? You won’t really know the answer to that until you ask for their feedback. This article offers suggestions for getting reader feedback that can help you become a better communicator.

How Do You Know? Measuring the Effectiveness of Health-Literacy Interventions

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, January/February 2005

How do you know your efforts to improve health literacy at your institution are working? It’s not enough simply to provide information in a simple format. This article includes tips for evaluating the effectiveness of your health communication efforts.

What’s the Difference? Does Gender Matter When Communicating About Health?

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, December 2004

When creating health information, does it matter whether your audience is male or female? Should there be a difference in style? If so, what is that difference? This article includes tips for producing health materials both men and women can relate to and understand.

Why Health Literacy Matters

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, October 2004 

October 2004 marks the fifth anniversary of Health Literacy Month. Health literacy has grown tremendously, evolving from a concept that few were aware of to an issue of worldwide attention and action. In honor of Health Literacy Month 2004, this article includes the views of several healthcare professionals about why health literacy matters. 

Health and Literacy Working Together: A Health Literacy Conference for New Readers & Health Professionals

“Health and  Literacy Working Together,” was a conference unlike any other. Held in Des Moines, Iowa on September 10- 11, 2004, new readers (adults who are learning to read) and health providers (doctors, nurses, public health specialists, and others who communicate health information) met as equal partners -- together finding ways to improve health understanding.  This article includes a summary of the conference along with interviews of 5 participants.  

Building Health Literacy Programs One Step at a Time

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, August/September 2004

Many health facilities are creating health-literacy programs to address the difficulties that patients have accessing, understanding, and using health information. In reality, however, health-literacy programs often compete for limited resources with numerous other equally worthy initiatives. This article includes some lessons learned along the way.    

Working With Numbers

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, June/July 2004

Patients need to understand numbers in order to make health decisions based on risk and benefit information. But they may have significant difficulty doing so. This article includes ways to help patients better understand and use numbers in health information.

Healthcare Communication From an Adult Learner’s Perspective

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, April 2004

Archie Willard, an adult learner who learned to read when he was 54 years old, shares experiences about how difficult life can be when people cannot read, or read well. He shares tips that health providers can use to better communicate with all patients — including those who have limited literacy skills.

Helping Patients Make Difficult Decisions

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, April 2004

Patients often are asked to make difficult decisions – choosing among different yet equally reasonable treatment options. In this article, two experts share tools and tips health professionals can use to help patients weigh their treatment options and make decisions they feel comfortable with.

The Ethics of Simplicity

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, March 2004

When simplifying complex health information for consumers, writers need to make difficult choices that are as much about ethics as they are about nouns and verbs. This article includes some ideas, strategies, and suggestions for doing so.

Teaching With Touchscreen Technology

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call magazine, January/February 2004

Touchscreen technology makes simultaneous use of audio, video, and interactive techniques, and because a touchscreen has no keyboard or mouse, it’s easy for most people to use. This article includes multiple ways that this interactive technology can be used as a valuable tool for patient teaching.

Communicating about Health with New Immigrants

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On call Magazine, November/December 2003 

Accessing, using, and understanding the United States healthcare system is difficult for almost everyone. But for immigrants new to this country, it can sometimes seem impossible. This article includes some suggestions you can use to help make healthcare in the United States more accessible, usable, and understandable for people new to this country.
It’s Time to Get Involved in Health Literacy Month

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, October 2003

Observed each October, Health Literacy Month (HLM) is a time for health-literacy advocates around the world to focus attention on the fact that much of the health information people need is difficult or even impossible to understand. This article highlights some ways you can get involved.

Communicating Electronically with Patients

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, September 2003

Electronic communication – through e-mail and the World Wide Web -- between patients and providers can enhance patient-provider relations, support patient education, and save both time and money. This article includes some suggestions for how to use e-mail or Web-based communication in your own clinical practice.

Communicating With Clients in Person and Over the Phone (PDF file)

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
Center for Medicare Education
Issue Brief  Vol. 4, No.8, 2003

Communicating complex health-care and long-term care information clearly, quickly, and in ways your clients can truly understand is a major challenge for aging-services providers. This brief focuses on oral communication, with tips to improve communication about Medicare and other health-related topics. 

Adding a Dose of Humor to Your Patient Teaching

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, July/August 2003

Patient education is serious business. But the right balance of humor can be the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down and be great tools to facilitate learning. This article includes pointers on how you can incorporate a dose of healthy humor in your own patient teaching.  

Communicating About Health with ASL

By Helen Osborne, MEd, OTR/L
On Call Magazine, June 2003

ASL (American Sign Language), the primary language for most people in the Deaf community. Healthcare professionals need to be as aware of ASL as they are of any other language spoken in the communities they serve. This article includes ways you can help make sure your messages will get across.

Opening the Interactive Communication Loop

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, May 2003

Providers need to communicate their messages in ways patients can understand. Patients, in turn, should speak up when they don’t understand, or cannot recall and follow instructions. This article includes strategies healthcare providers can use to create an environment that promotes understanding.

Making Sure Your Web Site Is Accessible

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, April 2003

The World Wide Web is an important resource for many people. For some, it’s a source of education, a way to find work, and a portal to healthcare information they need. But for people with disabilities, either temporary or permanent, the Web can be difficult to use, even frustrating. This article includes ways to begin improving the accessibility of your organization’s Web site.

Make It Easy: Writing Healthcare Forms that Patients Can Understand and Complete

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, March 2003

Patients are often asked to complete healthcare documents and forms. These materials may ask them to locate items on tables or graphs, look up information found in other documents, or rate satisfaction on a scale from 1–10. This article includes a brief overview of what to consider to make the task of completing these forms easier for most people.

Vital Messages: Helping Patients Take Their Medications Safely and Correctly

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magzine, February 2003

Helping patients understand their medications, whether they are prescription or over-the-counter drugs, is an integral part of healthcare. This article highlights ways pharmacists, prescribers, and patients can work together for safe and correct medication use.

It’s Like What You Already Know: Using Analogies to Help Patients Understand

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, January 2003

Sometimes for patients, making the effort to understand healthcare information can seem like putting together a jigsaw puzzle without a picture to guide them or corner pieces to get started. Analogies can provide framework to help patients better understand new words and concepts. This article includes tips for doing so. 

Making It Work: Selecting Healthcare Brochures for Older Adults

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, November/December 2002

Selecting brochures that older adults can use and learn from takes more than simply verifying the content is accurate. Health professionals need to consider the diverse abilities and challenges faced by their intended readers. This article includes guidelines for you to consider when you choose materials that will benefit the older adults you work with.  

Health-Literacy Partnerships: Working Together Can Make a Difference

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, October 2002

Health Literacy Month affords an excellent opportunity for healthcare professionals not only to raise awareness about health literacy but also form partnerships with other agencies to help patients develop literacy skills. In this article, a community health educator and literacy director share strategies to form a health-literacy partnership.

How the New HIPAA Regulations Affect Healthcare Communication

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, September 2002

It is the responsibility of every healthcare worker to respect patients’ rights, making sure that he or she does not violate the privacy of patient information. It is also the law. This article includes a brief overview of some of the major provisions of the new Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Help Them Talk: Communicating With Patients and Families About End-of-life Decisions

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, September 2002

It is hard to talk about death. Patients and their families, understandably, don’t like to think about making sad and irrevocable decisions. Health providers, too, can feel uncomfortable when they are asked to counsel families facing very difficult choices. This article includes tips that health professionals can use to help patients and their families grapple with these tough end-of-life matters.

Getting Formal: Finding the Teaching Tools You Need at a Price Your Organization Can Afford

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, July/August 2002

Whether you work in hospitals or see patients in their homes, in today’s economy you are apt to a have limited (or even non-existent) budget for patient education materials. This article includes tips you can use to find the teaching tools that meet the learning needs of patients while you stay within a budget your organization can afford.

Getting Formal: Educating Patients in a Classroom Setting

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, June 2002

Patient education occurs when health providers and patients talk about the patient’s discharge instructions or medication information. Or when health providers recommend health-related booklets, videos, or websites to their patients. It also can take place in a classroom setting. This article includes tips to help ensure your classes benefit patients and providers alike.

Narrative Power: Using Stories in Healthcare Communication

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, May 2002

Stories are more than just a listing of random incidents and anecdotes. They have a beginning, middle, and end and they include characters who convey feelings and communicate ideas that your listener needs to hear. Whether you use stories as teaching tools or encourage patients to tell their own, this article includes tips for using stories to improve healthcare communication.

Conversations That Need to Happen: Helping Adult Children Talk With Their Parents About Health and Finances

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, April 2002

For many families, health and finances may have never been openly discussed before, and both parents and adult children can feel awkward talking about these topics. As a healthcare professional, you can help. This articles includes some suggestions you can use to help families deal with potentially touchy issues before a crisis happens.

From Another Point of View: A Patient’s Perspective about Health Communication

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, March 2002

To be true partners in treatment and care, patients and providers need to communicate in ways that allow each to understand the other. This article includes tips you can use and some you can pass along to patients as you help them become better communicators.

What They Need to Know: Communicating About Risk

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, February 2002

You often need to tell people about risk. For instance, you may need to convince them they should change the battery in their smoke detectors or explain side effects of medication or treatment precautions. This article includes practical tips about how to communicate information that the audience may not want to know.

Making the Match: Choosing Patient Education Materials

By Helen Osborne, MEd, OTR/L
On Call Magazine, January 2002

You have a wide range to choose from when you need patient educational materials. This article includes tips you can use to select patient education materials that are not only accurate, up-to-date, and affordable but also meet the learning and literacy needs of patients and families.

For Their Health: Communicating With Patients Who Have a Chronic Illness

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, December 2001

Patients who have a chronic illness often need to assume responsibility for their care and treatment on a daily basis. This article includes strategies that healthcare professionals can use to get across the information patients need to know.

Can They Understand? Testing Patient Education Materials With Intended Readers

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, November 2001 

Patient education materials can be difficult to understand because they often use language and reasoning that are familiar to health professionals, but not to patients. In this article, Leonard and Cecelia Doak, authors of Teaching Patients with Low Literacy Skills talk about specific ways to find out if intended readers can understand written educational materials.

Tools to Help Patients Navigate Their Way Around Hospitals

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, October 2001

Have you ever considered what it feels like to be a new patient at your hospital? Not just how it feels to be sick or scared, but what it is like to have to navigate your way around a large and unfamiliar institution? This article includes suggestions about ways you can help your institution make it easier for patients to get around.

Finding the Information You Need at a Medical Library

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, September, 2001

Regardless of whether you want to learn about a new clinical intervention, find out about the latest trend in quality assurance, or prepare for a presentation, the medical library invariably has the information you need to get started. This article includes ways to find the information you need at a medical library.

Know When to Speak and When to Listen: Communicating With People Who Are Anxious or Angry

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, August 2001

The intensity of a patient’s or a family member’s feelings can interfere with that person’s ability to put words to his or her most pressing concerns. This article includes tips to help clinicians communicate more effectively when emotions of their patients run high and anxiety or anger gets in the way of effective communication.

Mind What You Say: Speaking With and Listening to Older Adults

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magzine, June 2001

For patients to fully participate in their own treatment and care, they need to be able to understand both formal and informal verbal communication. When the patient is an older adult, the problems associated with hearing and being heard can be especially acute. This article includes communication strategies that health professionals can use when they speak with and listen to older adults.

Using Feng Shui to Improve Healthcare Communication

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, May 2001

Feng Shui, the art and science of creating an environment that has a positive effect on people, is one tool clinicians can use to improve healthcare communication. This article includes simple and often inexpensive changes clinicians can make to create environments in which people feel comfortable communicating with one another.   

Make a Difference: Be a Literacy Volunteer

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, April 2001

Writing clearly and simply is one way to improve health communication. Teaching children and adults how to read is another. There is a great need for literacy volunteers and health professionals who volunteer have a lot to offer. Learn how you can make a difference as a literacy volunteer.

Start Where They Are: Communicating With Children and Their Families About Health and Illness

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, March 2001

Health providers who work with children and teenagers need to be well versed in anatomy, physiology, and child growth and development. But they also need to be fully informed about who’s who on “Sesame Street,” what’s new in the world of rock music, and what’s hot in fashion and belly-button rings. This article includes helpful tips about how to communicate with children, teenagers, and their families.

When You Need to Know: Literacy Resources for Health Professionals

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, February 2001

In an ideal clinical situation, health providers and patients always understand one another. But in reality, this is not necessarily the case. This month’s column focuses on literacy-related resources that health providers can use to communicate in ways that help patients understand

Communicating Across a Life Span: Universal Design in Print and Web-based Communication

By Helen Osborne M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, January 2001

Universal design is an approach to design that not only addresses specific physical disabilities, but also takes into account a wide array of physical, cognitive, and linguistic abilities of people throughout the world over an entire life span. This article includes some ways health care providers can use universal design principles in print and Web-based communications.

Assessing Readability: Rules for Playing the Numbers Game

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, December 2000

Originally designed to help classroom teachers choose textbooks for their students, most readability formulas give a score in terms of a grade level. But it isn't enough just to know how far your readers went in school. This article includes facts you need to know when assessing the readability of written healthcare information.

When It's Time to Choose: Thinking About the Right Words

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, November 2000

Words not only convey information, they also reflect values and beliefs. This article includes some considerations to govern your choice of words when communicating about health.

When Vision Is an Issue: Communicating With Patients Who Are Visually Impaired

By Helen Osborne, MEd, OTR/L
On Call Magazine, October 2000

Visual impairments do not need to get in the way of effective communication. Keeping that in mind can help ensure your patients get the information they need. This article includes strategies you can use to improve communications with patients who are blind or have visual problems.

Health Literacy Month: It’s Time to Get Involved

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, September 2000

Health Literacy Month is a grass-roots campaign to promote understandable health communication around the world. The month will be observed for the first time in October 2000. This article includes ways you can participate in Health Literacy Month.

Thinking about Research: Things You Should Consider before You Say Yes

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, August 2000

Moving into research can be an exciting enhancement to your career. But if you are not familiar with what’s involved, it can be an overwhelming experience. The more you know about research before you start, the better able you are to decide when it might be the right move to make.

When You Truly Need to Find Other Words: Working with Medical Interpreters

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, July 2000

Trained medical interpreters and translators help healthcare providers and patients get beyond language barriers. If you are not in the habit of working with medical interpreters, here are some guidelines you can follow.

Finding What You Want with a Point and a Click: Using the Internet to Get the Medical Information You Need

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, June 2000

It truly is amazing how much medical information you can get off the Internet with just a point and a click. The problem is knowing how to sort through all the information that's available to get at that one or two pieces of information you or your patient needs. In this article, Helen Osborne writes about eight ways health care providers can improve their skills at searching the Internet.

It Takes More Than Just Words: Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Materials

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, April 2000

We all know how funny and confusing a mistranslation can be. But even when all the words are right and in the right place, your intended audience might still not understand you. In this article, you will learn four ways that health professionals can help ensure that health education materials are culturally and linguistically appropriate.

Don't Just Stand There, Answer

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, March 2000

If all you do all day is answer the phone, you can soon learn to hate it. But if you know how to use it wisely, it can save time and help build rapport. This article includes ways you can use the telephone as an important tool for communicating with patients and families.

Making Sure It Works: Documenting Patient Education

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, January 2000

Not only do health professionals need to be excellent teachers, they must also be attentive to how they document what they have taught. Continuity and consistency of care, improved efficiency, and decreased professional liability are all benefits of documenting patient education. Learn five things you as a healthcare professional should do to ensure proper documentation.

Teaching with Pictures

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, November 1999

When your object is to get across messages your audience need for their health, pictographs can help. Learn ways you can make graphics part of your everyday presentations.

Literacy and the Older Adult

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, October 1999

When there is a lot to learn, there is also a lot healthcare professionals can do to help seniors learn it. Here are ways healthcare professionals can make it easier for older patients to read, understand, and follow medical instructions.

Communicating with People From Other Cultures

By Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L
On Call Magazine, August 1999

Cultural values, beliefs, and assumptions influence healthcare. If these assumptions are wrong, a person’s health can be seriously jeopardized. This column includes tips about how to talk with people who come from cultures other than your own.