“If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.” – Albert Einstein
By all accounts Albert Einstein was a smart individual. His theory of relativity is a dead give away but his intelligence really shows in the quote above.
Einstein knew he was smart, he knew the way he thought and the things he discovered were difficult for people like me to understand but he knew it was important to be understood. If he wanted me to understand the Theory of Relativity he would not be able to use scientific terms and mathematical formulas because I wouldn’t get it. His intelligence was apparent in his ability to explain scientific theory in a way a non-scientist would understand.
It’s been windy the past few days and that prompted my seven-year old son to ask me where wind came from. Converging air masses and the jet stream were the first things to come to mind but I knew that wouldn’t satisfy him. I was able to use an ice-cube, hot water and my flailing arms to provide an explanation that he understood. I looked funny and I had to think long and hard to provide an explanation that he could understand yet still provided him sufficient detail to “get it”.
It was a good exercise for me and it’s what caused the above quote to catch my eye the next day. In health care we do complicated things every day. At times I wonder if we even really understand how an MRI works or how we get results about cholesterol from a tube of blood. There are people in our organization who know exactly how these things occur and they are our resident experts. I have faith and trust in them because I know we have good people.
Most of our patients are not experts in the field of medicine so their knowledge of the tests and procedures we perform on them are limited to what we tell them and how well we explain. Explanation is complicated because the procedures are complicated but if we follow Einstein’s lead our patients will be better prepared and more compliant.
Think about how you explain your service to patients. If you could be a fly on the wall and listen to the conversation and you knew nothing about the test or treatment you were explaining, would you understand? Sometimes our own knowledge gets in the way of our explanation. We often assume our patients have a baseline of knowledge but we shouldn’t. We should be more like Einstein and assume our patients are in the first grade and need a very through and elementary explanation. If we can’t explain it in that manner maybe we need to learn a little more ourselves.