Communicating When There Is a Wide Range of Worry (HLOL #185)

Emilie Johnson, MD, MPH, is a pediatric urologist and health services researcher in Chicago, IL. She cares for pediatric urology patients (and their families) at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital, and is an Assistant Professor of Urology at Northwestern University. In her practice, Dr. Johnson address the medical and surgical needs of children with a wide range of conditions involving the urinary and genital systems.

In this podcast, Dr. Johnson and Helen Osborne discuss:

  • Communication challenges when a specialist first meets with patients and families about conditions that may or may not be medically concerning.
  • Ways to set a tone of empathy, caring, and respect. One example is inviting patients to share their worries and fears at the beginning of appointments. And only after these are aired, then discussing treatment options and plans.
  • Tools and strategies to increase mutual understanding. These not only include the spoken word but also visuals, diagrams, and primers on terminology.

More Ways to Learn:

Read the transcript of this podcast.

Health Literacy and People Who Are Homeless (HLOL #184)

Samantha Wood devotes herself to serving those who are the most vulnerable and helping them fulfill their life goals. Wood is Senior Housing Stabilization Case Manager at The Haven–a multi-resource day shelter for people who are homeless. The Haven is located in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia. Samantha Wood takes pride in serving the area near where she grew up.

In this podcast, Samantha Wood talks with Helen Osborne about:

  • Being homeless. What this can be like and why it sometimes happens.
  • The intersection of health issues and people who are homeless.
  • Ways that health systems, clinicians, and others can work with, and walk alongside of, those who are homeless to improve health and health communication.

More Ways to Learn:

Read the transcript of this podcast

Building Bridges of Health Literacy: Connecting Globally, Acting Locally, Learning Together (HLOL #183)

Kristine Sørensen is founding director of the Global Health Literacy Academy. Kristine Sørensen also is the first president of the International Health Literacy Association, chair of Health Literacy Europe, and advisor to the WHO on health literacy. She now lives in Denmark. 

In this podcast, Kristine Sørensen talks with Helen Osborne about:

  • Health literacy efforts in Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa, and the United States. How these efforts are alike and ways that they differ.
  • Why and how to keep doing this work even when faced with resistance. 
  • Health literacy associations, conferences, online discussions, and other ways to learn from and support each other.

More Ways to Learn:

Read the transcript of this podcast. 

Elderspeak (HLOL #182)

Anna I. Corwin Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Saint Mary’s College of California. Trained in Linguistic and Medical Anthropology, Dr. Corwin’s work focuses on understanding how cultural practices and communication shape older individuals’ experiences of their lives, their bodies, and aging.  Much of Dr. Corwin’s research has examined how and why American Catholic nuns age more “successfully” than their lay counterparts, benefitting not only from physical health but also mental and emotional well-being.

In this podcast, Dr. Anna Corwin and Helen Osborne talk about:

  • Elderspeak. Characteristics can include simplified speech and vocabulary, a slower rate, exaggerated intonation, elevated pitch and volume, and collective pronouns. 
  • Why some people use elderspeak. And possible negative outcomes when they do. 
  • Dr. Corwin’s research as a linguistic anthropologist. Stories and lessons learned from her year living with nuns at a Catholic convent.  
  • Examples of effective linguistic tools to try when interacting with people who have aphasia, dementia, or other conditions impeding communication. 

More Ways to Learn:

Communicating Clearly Takes More Than Simple Words (HLOL #181)

Lauren McCormack PhD, MPSH is Vice President of RTI International’s Public Health Research Division and Adjunct Associate Professor in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. McCormack’s research bridges the fields of health communication and health policy. It involves developing, testing, and evaluating interventions to promote patient-centered care, patient engagement, and informed decision-making.  An overarching goal is to improve the public’s understanding and use of medical evidence.

In this podcast, Helen Osborne talks with Dr. McCormack about:

  • Helping patients and the public make decisions based on information and evidence. 
  • Targeting, narratives, tailoring, framing, expressing uncertainty, and other communication strategies.
  • Tips for using these strategies in your health related materials. 

More Ways to Learn:

Read the transcript of this podcast. 

The Opioid Crisis and Health Literacy (HLOL #180)

Alex Hogan is a multimedia journalist at STAT, which is a health and science news site from Boston Globe Media Partners. Hogan produces videos, illustrations and animations with the aim of making often complex topics accessible. In 2017, he produced the short documentary, “Runnin,'” which took an intimate look at the impact of the opioid crisis in his hometown of Somerville, MA.

In this podcast, Alex Hogan talks with Helen Osborne about:

  • The opioid crisis. How it got started, and why it has become such a problem now.
  • The intersection of the opioid crisis, health literacy, and health communication.
  • Ways listeners can help, such as by not using stigmatizing language.

More ways to learn:

Read the transcript of this podcast

Plain Language: It’s About Smartening Up, Not Dumbing Down (HLOL #179)

Karen Schriver PhD is President of KSA Communication Design and Research—a Pittsburgh-based consultancy focused on making information clear, compelling, and usable. She helps organizations draw on the latest empirical research so they can write and design more effective people-centered communications. She is a former professor of rhetoric and information design at Carnegie Mellon University. Dr. Schriver’s book, Dynamics in Document Design: Creating Texts for Readers has been called a landmark in its field. Winner of fourteen international and national awards for her work, Dr. Schriver is writing a new book about ways to reach busy readers through evidence-based information design and plain language.

In this podcast, Dr. Karen Schriver talks with Helen Osborne about:

  • Plain language. Includes not only simpler words but also sentence structure, design, and many other ways to help readers find, understand, and use information. 
  • Reluctance and skepticism about plain language (sometimes expressed as concerns about “dumbing down”) from writers and subject-matter experts.
  • Examples and strategies to make a compelling case for using plain language (or, as Helen sometimes calls this approach, “smartening up”).

More Ways to Learn:

  • “Plain Language in the US Gains Momentum: 1940-2015,” by Karen Schriver. Published in IEEE Transactions of Personal Communication, Volume 60, Issue 4. Abstract available at
  • Dynamics in Document Design: Creating Texts for Readers, by Karen Schriver.

For more information, contact Dr. Schriver at

Read the transcript of this podcast. 

Visual Metaphors: When Words Alone Are Not Enough (HLOL #178)

Alex Thomas MDand Gary Ashwal MA are co-founders of Booster Shot Media. Alex is a board-certified pediatric allergist/immunologist and a cartoonist/illustrator with more than 20 years’ experience. Gary is a health communication specialist and multimedia producer of healthcare content. With 15+ years of creative partnership, Alex and Gary apply their combined experience to produce comic books, animation, and other visual projects to teach people of all ages about complex health topics.

In this podcast, Helen Osborne talks with Alex Thomas and Gary Ashwal about:

  • Communicating in non-traditional ways as with comics, animation, and whiteboards
  • Examples of using visual metaphors to help explain complex medical concepts
  • Tips for creating and using visual teaching tools in your healthcare practice

More Ways to Learn:

Read this podcast transcript. 

Health Literacy and Justice-Involved Individuals (HLOL #177)

David Young is a Professor and Community Health Specialist at Montana State University. His work involves improving the health and well-being of vulnerable, at-risk, marginalized, hard-to-reach populations. Young’s research is focused on promoting health literacy, health insurance literacy, and improved self-care management skills of those who are incarcerated.

In this podcast, Helen Osborne talks with David Young about:

  • Justice involved individuals.As many as 1 out of 3 adults in the United States (70-100 million) has a criminal record or is involved with the criminal justice system whether arrested without conviction, in jail, in prison, or under community supervision. Learn more at “Americans with Criminal Records.”
  • Health issues affecting this population. Issues include chronic health conditions, infectious diseases, mental illness, substance use disorders, aging, and trauma. Learn more at “Medical Problems of State and Federal Prisoners and Jail Inmates, 2011-12.”
  • Health literacy and health insurance literacy programs that educate returning citizens (those returning to the community) to successfully manage their own health.

More Ways to Learn:

  • Young, D and Weinert C, (2013) “Improving Health Literacy With Inmates.” Read the PDF.
  • Young, D and Weinert C, (2016) “Promoting health insurance and enrollment literacy with jail inmates.” Link to access this article.
  • The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2018. “Jails: Inadvertent Health Care Providers.” Link to this report.
  • Brown, PL. “They’re Out of Prison. Can They Stay Out of the Hospital?” The New York Times,May 29, 2018. Link to article.

Read the transcript of this podcast.

Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science: Using Improv to Communicate with Your Audience in Effective and Engaging Ways (HLOL #176)

The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science is located at Stony Brook University on Long Island, NY. As stated on its website, The Alda Center “empowers scientists and health professionals to communicate complex topics in clear, vivid, and engaging ways.”

Laura Lindenfeld, PhD, is Director of the Alda Center and Professor in Stony Brook’s School of Journalism. As a communication researcher, Lindenfeld helps scientists communicate in direct and engaging ways. Her goal is to advance meaningful, productive interactions with communities, stakeholders, and decision-makers by strengthening linkages between knowledge and action.

Susmita Pati, MD, MPH, is Chief Medical Program Advisor at the Alda Center. She not only is a practicing pediatrician but also a nationally-recognized expert in population health analytics, innovation, and system transformation. Pati knows well how important clear communication is to everyone in healthcare including patients, parents, physicians, and other clinicians.

In this podcast, Helen Osborne talks with Laura Lindenfeld and Susmita Pati about:

  • Alan Alda, and why he founded The Center for Communicating Science.
  • What improv is. And how this acting technique can help scientists and health professionals better communicate spoken and written messages.
  • How empathy, listening, sharing stories, being fully present, and other such skills help build connections with colleagues and the audience.
  • Ways these skills also help professionals rediscover their passion for this work.

More Ways to Learn:

Read the transcript of this podcast.

Making Lab Test Results More Meaningful (HLOL #175)

Brian J. Zikmund-Fisher, Associate Professor of Health Behavior and Health Education and Research Associate Professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He also is Associate Director of University of Michigan’s Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine. Trained in decision psychology and behavioral economics, Dr. Zikmund-Fisher designs and evaluates novel communication methods to make health data more intuitively meaningful, studies the effects of poor numeracy on the public’s use of health data, and explores the power of narratives in health communications. He developed and teaches graduate courses in health risk communication and designing memorable (“sticky”) health messages.

In this podcast, Brian J. Zikmund-Fisher talk with Helen Osborne about:

  • Why it is important that patients understand lab test results. And why this is so hard for many people to do.
  • How visual cues such as number lines, ranges of relevant values, colors, and harm anchors (with simple words) can help patients not only understand lab results but also figure out what, if any, actions to take.
  • Takeaways from this research that clinicians can use in everyday practice.

More Ways to Learn:

Read the transcript of this podcast.

Dream Big: Making a Health Literacy Difference Within an Organization and Beyond (HLOL #174)

Laurie Myers is the Global Health Literacy Director for Merck & Co, Inc. In this role, Myers leads the company’s health literacy efforts globally. Her leadership has helped to improve patient communications in medication labeling, packaging, clinical trial materials, lay summaries, patient education, and more. Myers presents this work at conferences around the world and has authored numerous papers about these accomplishments.

In this podcast, Laurie Myers talks with Helen Osborne about:

  • A commitment to health literacy that originated with professional training, personal experience, and opportunity. And why a passion for this topic continues years later.
  • Advocacy from leaders, lawyers, and colleagues to initiate and implement health literacy programs.
  • Building on success within a large organization to making a difference worldwide.

More Ways to Learn:

Read the transcript of this podcast.

Talking About Ticks and Other Environmental Health Concerns. (HLOL #173)

Aaron Frechette’s background is in journalism. Starting as a teenager, Frechette has worked in both radio and newspaper as a reporter and editor. He also is experienced in facilitating public forums about issues that affect the community. Frechette now brings this wide array of communication skills to his work at the Rhode Island Department of Health. In this podcast, Aaron Frechette speaks for himself and his views do not necessarily reflect those of his employer.

In this podcast, Aaron Frechette talks with Helen Osborne about:

  • Why it’s important to talk with the public about ticks and other environmental concerns. And reasons that doing so can be difficult.
  • Effective strategies to communicate environmental health messages–even when the science is hard to understand, issues may be controversial, and resources are limited.
  • Resources to share, build upon, and use in collaboration.

More Ways to Learn:

Read the transcript of this podcast.

Digital Content Strategy: Being Agile When Communicating About Health (HLOL #172)

Leigh Curtin-Wilding, MSc is a content author, strategist, storyteller, and marketing communication professional. Her passion is making health information usable and meaningful for today’s consumer. Leigh serves as director of, and teaches at, Boston University’s online graduate program in Health Communication.

In this podcast, Leigh Curtin-Wilding talks with Helen Osborne about:

  • Being agile in health communication, prepared to adapt content to changing conditions, policies, and formats.
  • Understanding the user’s journey that includes actions, emotions, and how they access information.
  • Tips for effective communication including understanding the audience, chunking information, having short bursts of information, and using visuals and good design.

More Ways to Learn:

Read the transcript of this podcast. 

Consider Culture and Language When Communicating About Health (HLOL #171)

Wilma Alvarado-Little MA, MSW focuses on health equity from a linguistic and cultural perspective. She serves as the Associate Commissioner for New York State’s Department of Health and Director of its Office of Minority Health & Health Disparities. Her experience includes work in public policy, research, health literacy, and health disparities prevention. Alvarado-Little also is a healthcare interpreter and has helped develop numerous hospital and clinic-based programs. She is an invited participant on many national and statewide boards that address issues of culture and language in healthcare.

In this podcast, Wilma Alvarado-Little talks with Helen Osborne about:

  • Culture in health communication has many dimensions. Beyond issues of race and ethnicity, includes factors such as socioeconomic status, communication preferences, and even work schedules.
  • Language includes written words, spoken words, and numbers along with body language, context, and potential distractions.
  • Ways to consider culture and language in all forms of health communication.

More ways to learn:

Read the transcript of this podcast.

Wellness, Women, and Health Literacy (HLOL #170)

Ruth Parker MD, MACP is Professor of Medicine, Pediatrics and Public Health at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.  For over two decades, her work has focused on research, education, and policy efforts to advance our nation’s health literacy. Ruth Parker’s health literacy accomplishments are many including being an author of the Test of Functional Health Literacy in Adults (TOFHLA) and the widely used definition of health literacy included in numerous scholarly articles and national health policies. She is also a life-long athlete and has completed more than 25 marathons using the RunWalkRun® method. (Pictured in photo on the left)

Carmen Patrick Mohan MD FACP is an internal medicine physician, urban homesteader, and marathon runner who prescribes food and exercise as medicine. She works to foster change in healthcare delivery through internet technology, improved patient communication, and information access. Carmen Patrick Mohan specializes in cardiometabolic risk factor reduction with a focus on women. She is also a competitive runner and on a quest to complete marathons in 50 states and on 7 continents. (In photo on the right)

Dr. Ruth Parker and Dr. Carmen Patrick Mohan talk with Helen Osborne about:

  • The book they co-authored with Jeff Galloway, The Women’s Guide to Health: Run Walk Run, Eat Right, and Feel Better. What this book is about and why it was important to write.
  • How their practice as physicians, experience as marathon runners, and commitment to health literacy help women of all abilities achieve fundamental health.
  • Tips and strategies for podcast listeners–of all professions, genders, ages, and levels of activity—to help others and themselves become more fit and healthy.

More Ways to Learn:

The Women’s Guide to Health: Run Walk Run, Eat Right, and Feel Better, by Jeff Galloway, Ruth Parker, Carmen Patrick Mohan. Published by Meyer & Meyer Sport, 2018. Available on Amazon at

Author websites:

Read the written transcript.

Law Enforcement, Risk Management, and Health Literacy (HLOL #169)

Heather Schragg is Director of Patient Experience at Eaton Rapids Medical Center in Eaton Rapids, MI. She not only oversees the hospital’s Risk and Quality Management programs but also its initiatives to improve patient and employee experiences. Heather is committed to helping patients navigate and understand the complicated healthcare system.

Mitch Ross is a police officer in Milwaukee Wisconsin.

Over the years he has held many positions, including work in an Anti-Gang Unit Squad and on a Major Incident Response Team. He also is an adjunct instructor at the Milwaukee Police Training Academy. In addition, Mitch educates civilians about reporting suspicious activities and responding appropriately during active shooter events.

Helen Osborne talks with Heather Schragg and Mitch Ross about:

  • What law enforcement, hospital risk management, and health literacy have in common when it comes to health communication.
  • Effective ways to communicate when a calm situation escalates into a crisis. And ways to use words and body language to help calm a tense situation.

Communication tips that all of us, regardless of our profession or setting, can use to build trust and understanding.

Read the transcript of this podcast.

Advance Care Planning: Communicating Clearly Before There Is a Crisis (HLOL #168)

Aretha Delight Davis MD, JD, and Angelo Volandes MD, MPH, are an amazing team. They not only are married to each another but also created, run, research, and otherwise make possible ACP Decisions — an ever-growing collection of video support tools designed to help patients and families make informed decisions about advance care planning and end-of-life care. They both are physicians. Dr. Davis is also a lawyer. Their accomplishments are many and build on a deep and unwavering commitment to empowering patients.

In this podcast Dr. Davis and Dr. Volandes talk with Helen Osborne about:

  • Advance Care Planning (ACP). What it includes and why this topic is important to patients, caregivers, and healthcare professionals.
  • “Death illiteracy” and other reasons it can be hard to discuss advance care planning.
  • Tips, strategies, and tools to help make advance care planning conversations easier. These include using videos and excellent consumer-facing websites.

More ways to learn:

Read the transcript of this podcast.

Efforts to Improve the Readability of Medication Labels (HLOL #167)

Joanne Schwartzberg MD is Scholar-in-Residence for the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). Her career is filled with important accomplishments including many years of teaching, writing, researching, and creating healthcare policy. In my opinion, it’s also thanks in large part to Dr. Schwartzberg’s leadership at the American Medical Association (AMA) that the field of health literacy has flourished and grown.

In this podcast, Dr. Joanne Schwartzberg talks with Helen Osborne about:

  • Why people of all reading abilities have trouble following instructions on medication labels.
  • Ways that designers, pharmacists, scientific organizations, and others are working to improve the readability and usefulness of medication labels.
  • How podcast listeners can be part of this effort to make medication labels better.

More ways to learn:

Read the transcript of this podcast.

Using Technology to Share and Communicate the Experience of Illness (HLOL #166)

Pamela Katz Ressler MS, RN, HNB-BC, is the founder of Stress Resources in Concord, Massachusetts, a firm specializing in building resilience for individuals and organizations through connection, communication and compassion. Ressler teaches in the Pain Research, Education and Policy Program at Tufts University, serves on the Executive Board for Medicine X at Stanford University, and speaks about resilience at conferences worldwide. Pam Ressler also is an expert on using social media in healthcare.

In this podcast, Pam Ressler talks with Helen Osborne about:

  • How digital communication is helping people connect and share their experience of illness. And why this matters.
  • A rapid evolution from blogs to tweets and online peer-to-peer communities.
  • Ways that these forms of communication help patients make meaning of their illness and recovery, and move toward personalization and action.

More Ways to Learn:

Read the transcript of this podcast.

Each Patient’s Information Journey (HLOL #165)

Andy Rosenberg has over 25 years of experience as a political lobbyist, Capitol Hill staffer and former congressional candidate. In 2010, he helped create a health policy and government affairs firm called Thorn Run Partners. More recently, Andy founded a startup company called Reponsum that is developing an innovative educational tool for people with chronic diseases.

In this podcast, Andy Rosenberg talks with Helen Osborne about:

  • While the Internet may first seem like a wealth of information, patients and caregivers can easily get overwhelmed with outdated, non-customized content.
  • Responsum, an upcoming online tool with curated patient education.
  • Lessons learned from mapping patients’ information journeys. Includes 5 stages of patient centered-ness: noticing symptoms, getting a diagnosis, searching and researching, deciding about treatment, and living with a chronic disease.

More Ways to Learn:

PCORI’s Advisory Panel on Communication and Dissemination Research. Learn more at

Read the transcript of this podcast. 

Best Case/Worst Case: A Strategy to Manage Uncertainty in Shared Decision-Making (HLOL #164)

Gretchen Schwarze MD, MPP, is an Associate Professor in the Departments of Surgery and Medical History and Bioethics at the University of Wisconsin. Dr. Schwarze is a practicing vascular surgeon and health services researcher who also directs the clinical ethics curriculum for the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.  Her research interests are in patient-doctor decision making for high-risk operations and end-of-life care for surgical patients.

In this podcast, Dr. Schwarze talks with Helen Osborne about:

  • Best Case/Worst Case. A decision-making strategy that uses narrative, a graphic aid, and simplicity to communicate with families about complex treatment options.
  • Examples, stories, and research about using Best Case/Worst Case in practice.
  • Ways that patients and non-physicians can build on these lessons learned.

More ways to learn:

Read a transcript of this podcast.

Older Adults, Brain Changes, and Health Understanding (HLOL #163)

Mark Hochhauser, PhD, is a psychologist and readability consultant in Golden Valley, MN. He also is a long-time health literacy champion. Among his many accomplishments, Hochhauser has researched the readability of consent forms, HIPAA notices, and patient’s bill of rights. He has given more than 100 presentations and authored over 200 articles. Hochhauser has also taught undergraduate and graduate courses on topics that include Adulthood and Aging, Human Learning and Memory, Motivation and Emotion, and Abnormal Psychology.

In this podcast, Mark Hochhauser and Helen Osborne talk about:

  • Brain changes including working memory, processing speed, selective attention, and other factors that tend to decline with age.
  • What listeners can do to effectively communicate with older adults.
  • What patients and families can do to better understand health information.
  • How technology offers hope, opportunity, and tools for health communication.

More ways to learn:

Read the transcript of this podcast.

Deconstructing Stigma: A Very Public Multimedia Project about Mental Illness (HLOL #162)

Adriana Bobinchock is the senior director of Public Affairs and Communications for McLean Hospital, the largest psychiatric affiliate of Harvard Medical School. Bobinchock has worked in healthcare communications for more than 17 years and has a keen interest in educating the public about mental health. In 2016, Bobinchock along with her colleague Scott O’Brien, spearheaded McLean’s national public awareness campaign Deconstructing Stigma: A Change in Thought Can Change a Life.

In this podcast, Adriana Bobinchock talks with Helen Osborne about:

  • Deconstructing Stigma. What this project is, why it got started, who’s involved, and how it is helping educate the public about mental illness.
  • Ways this project uses photos, personal stories, statistics, social media, partnerships, and public space to convey a difficult, yet important, health message.
  • Suggestions about ways to create innovative, meaningful educational projects of your own.

More ways to learn:

Read the transcript of this podcast.

Health Literacy & Consumer Health Librarians (HLOL #161)

Amy Six-Means, MLIS, is on the librarian team at Children’s Health in Dallas, Texas. She worked at two other consumer health libraries prior to that. Six-Means started as an elementary school teacher, later going back to school for a degree in library science. Along the way, she discovered the connection between medical librarianship and health literacy and has been a passionate advocate ever since.

In this podcast, Amy Six-Means talks with Helen Osborne about:

  • What consumer health librarians do, where they work, and how they help patients, caregivers, and the public better understand about illness, treatment, and health.
  • How consumer health librarians can make a difference whether working in hospitals, communities, or healthcare systems.
  • Collaborating with consumer health librarians for better health literacy.

More Ways to Learn:

Examples of collaborative partnerships with medical/consumer health librarians and community members, public health initiatives, or health care organizations to further health literacy and support patients, loved ones, and the community.

Read the transcript of this podcast.