I was really pleased to have the opportunity to speak at IPS this year on how important it is to choose our words carefully and talk the same language to connect with our audience when communicating HCAI and AMR. My main reflection from preparing the talk is that people listen to you when the message is clear and personal, and they lose interest if the message is complicated or not relevant to them. Simple and small changes to the language that we use in the message that we deliver can make a big impact on the way that people respond. You can view my slides here.
I did a Infection Control Matters podcast based on this talk with the wonderful Martin Kiernan:
Special episode for World Antimicrobial Awareness Week – the 2022 ESPAUR Report is published – Infection Control Matters
- Special episode for World Antimicrobial Awareness Week – the 2022 ESPAUR Report is published
- IPC Challenges in aged care and priorities in acute care discussion recorded live at the ACIPC Conference
- From Films to Biofilms with Annette Jeanes and Jean-Yves Maillard from the IPS Conference
- It’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say it with Jon Otter (from the IPS Conference)
- Special from the IPS Conference – reducing C. difficile by better mouthcare and a general chat
I started out thinking there would be tons of literature describe how the language that we use to communicate HCAI and AMR is vitally important. And whilst this was true to a degree, I found it challenging to find a way in to the literature. I think it’s fair to say that I only scratched the surface of this topic – but enough to fuel my interest to learn a bit more.
My starting point was a study that I did at GSTT years ago – a point prevalence study of rectal carriage of antibiotic-resistant Gram-negative bacteria. This required us to individually consent over 4,000 patients to a research study over a couple of months (before money and time ran out!). I’ve described before on this blog how we found that a small change to the message that we gave to patients made dramatic improvements in study participation. The original message was bug focused and quite technical. The updated message was more focused on the benefits of participating in the study from an individual point of view.
Within the world of IPC and wider infection services, we have a huge diversity in audience of people we are trying to reach with important messages:
- Infection colleagues
- Non-infection colleagues
- Execs / Board
Each of the groups on this very non-exhaustive list has a different set of needs and expectations, which means our message needs to be crafted carefully with the audience in mind. It’s no good going to the public with a highly technical message, or to infection colleagues with over-simplified messages. A good example here is from some work done by the Wellcome Trust to examine how our use of language affects perceptions of antibiotic resistance. Terms like “AMR” (which I’m very conscious I’ve used in the title of this blog post!) and even “antibiotic resistance” can be meaningless or having different meanings to the public. For example, “antibiotic resistance” could give false hope along the lines of “well, if it’s only ‘resistant’ and not fully ‘immune’, then treatment might work, right”? I think this is what drove the development of the (helpful) “The drugs don’t work” narrative to sound the alarm around antimicrobial resistance.
It’s easy to forget that the words we use to describe infection-related topics can have a huge impact on patients. Some work undertaken in Ireland found that the way newly identified CPE carriers were described made patients feel like “lepers”, “pariahs”, or “plagued”. There are some simple ways that we can improve this, by, for example, talking about “patients with CPE” rather than “CPE patients”. The CPE doesn’t define them as a patient (or indeed as a person!).
Finally, a nice study on how a differently framed message can result in improved clinical decision making. A team in Oxford found that simplifying the laboratory report around C. dfficile infection resulted in better decision making related to treatment and isolation. You could argue that the new message was in some ways less technically accurate. But if it resulted in better clinical decision making at the end of the process, then the technical accuracy of the message seems less important – counterintuitive though that may seem!
I hope that this may prove to be a useful jumping off point for you into the world of the importance of our language in communicating HCAI and AMR.