The public-health value of speaking plainly

By Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic

Lisa Fitzpatrick is plainspoken, especially compared with other people with credentials like hers: a medical degree, clinical experience in multiple countries, master’s degrees from UC Berkeley and Harvard, years on the CDC’s elite Epidemic Intelligence Service, and a stint as the head of the Medicaid program in Washington, D.C. People like that tend to use complicated words, even when on television. What if they spoke as plainly as she does?

Last year, Fitzpatrick, who goes by Dr. Lisa while doing outreach, started a company called Grapevine Health. Its mission: give people simple, honest, accessible information about their health and the health-care system. Improve their understanding. And reduce chronic and infectious disease as a result. The less-accessible words for what she does are health literacy and patient engagement––tasks that became even more urgent when the coronavirus pandemic hit.

As cases spike and a vaccine rollout appears imminent, Dr. Lisa is worried. In her estimation, public-health officials are failing to reach the general public because they don’t use accessible language. She has expertise in doing so, having spent years soliciting questions from Americans who felt confused about aspects of their health. So she feels obligated to ramp up her efforts. In fact, she volunteered for a vaccine trial to be a more credible source of information about it. We spoke in early December about her career prior to the pandemic, her health-care business, what Americans need from the health-care system, and vaccines. This is an edited version of the interview. Read more …