Embrace: Confusion in the Doctor's Office

April 19, 2023

Confusion in the Doctor's Office: The Barriers of Education and Language

You’re not alone. The AHIMA Foundation discovered that 76% of Americans and their caregivers leave doctors’ offices confused (Wider, 2021). Two contributing factors to misunderstanding health information are education and language barriers; these factors lead to significant inequalities in receiving effective services (Davis, et. al., 2015). Health inequalities can be defined as “differences in the distribution of health status and achievement of health outcomes that exist among specific groups” (Lee et al., 2020). In other words, health inequalities are unfair disadvantages in healthcare for a population. Healthcare professionals use specific language in health records, making them difficult to understand. However, when an individual has just received a diagnosis, they can feel “overwhelmed with too much information… [and] may not be able to understand or use health information,” (Davis et al., 2015). Being anxious after a diagnosis can cause an individual to think unclearly, causing confusion when speaking to their doctor. In fact, Davis et al. (2015) recorded that “in 2004, the Institute of Medicine issued a report on health literacy called, ‘A Prescription to End Confusion’ that [describes] 90 million adults have trouble understanding and acting on health information.”

According to the AHIMA Foundation consumer surveys, leaving the doctor's office confused may lead individuals to do their own research. Generally, a person completing research can lead to a successful understanding of diagnoses and a clear path moving forward. However, having a key understanding of their personal medical information and records is vital as it allows one to recognize the scope of their health. This makes individuals feel confident about their health and their ability to manage their diagnosis (AHIMA Foundation, 2021). Additionally, individuals experiencing language and education barriers are at a disadvantage. Shamsi et al. (2020) recalled, “language barriers in healthcare lead to miscommunication between the medical professional and patient, reducing both parties’ satisfaction and decreasing the quality of healthcare delivery and patient safety.”

The Key to These Barriers is Communication!

“Communication is key for any relationship and especially true for the relationship between doctor and patient” (Wider, 2021). These articles show how important it is to ask questions and be an advocate for yourself. Therefore, it is important to ask questions and be an advocate for yourself because this is your journey. H4TG offers many resources including a guide to caring for yourself located here. Also, the member services page located here is another vital tool as it provides links to educational and socio-emotional support.

Here are helpful resources to consider if you feel you have an educational or language barrier:

Remember, H4TG is here for you. Please feel free to reach out to us at support@hereforthegirls.org or by phone at 757-645-2649 at any extension!


Davis, T., DeWalt, D., Hink, A., Hawk, V., Brega, A., & Malachi, N. (2015). Health literacy: Hidden barriers and practical strategies. AHRQ. Retrieved March 23, 2023, from https://www.ahrq.gov/health-literacy/improve/precautions/1stedition/tool3.html 

Lee, H., Kim, D., Lee, S., & Fawcett, J. (2020). The concepts of health inequality, disparities and equity in the era of population health. Applied nursing research : ANR, 56, 151367. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apnr.2020.151367

Shamsi, A. H., Almutairi, A. G., Al Mashrafi, S., & Al Kalbani, T. (2020). Implications of Language Barriers for Healthcare: A Systematic Review. Oman medical journal, 35(2), e122. https://doi.org/10.5001/omj.2020.40

Understanding, access and use of health information in America. AHIMA Foundation. (2021). https://ahimafoundationsite.azurewebsites.net/media/ngfbggsk/oct2021_understanding_access_use_health_information_america_ahima_foundation.pdf



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