By Stephanie Cook (MJour’18)

To administer effective medical care, providers rely on their patients for accurate information. So what happens when the provider asks the wrong questions or the patient isn’t comfortable revealing the truth?

As a social scientist focused on end-of-life communication, Carey Candrian (Comm’04; MComm’07; PhDComm’11), an associate professor of health communication at the CU School of Medicine, is focused on this paradigm––especially as it relates to the LGBTQ community.

Candrian’s research shows that, for patients who don’t identify as cisgender or straight, traditional scripts used in medical forms, intake questions and admission conversations tend to overlook critical elements of their life experience.

“Think about the script we all get in health care: Are you married? Do you have kids? And now think how isolating and silencing that script can be when you don’t fit,” she recently explained in an interview with PBS NewsHour. “I think the language we use around health care needs to be reimagined.

For elderly patients, especially, this dynamic can pose a painful and scary conundrum.

“Do you come out and risk being treated poorly, or do you stay silent and hide a fundamental part of who you are?” she says. “That’s a heck of a choice, so our other option is that we break these scripts––we open them up in a way that gives people space to answer in a way that fits them.”

Candrian first noticed the limiting nature of traditional medical scripts while shadowing a hospice admissions nurse early in her career, she recently told CU Anschutz Today. Her interest in communication, though, goes back even further.

“I got into a major in communication pretty randomly,” she told NewsHour. “It was the first day of class, and it was a large lecture hall, and the professor got up the first day and said, ‘People are not the problem. It’s the way people talk that’s the problem. And if you want to change culture, you need to give people a new vocabulary.’”

For Candrian, providing this new vocabulary is a critical mission with a massive scope.

“Currently, there are 2.4 million LGBT seniors in this country, and nearly half––48% of them––have not shared that with their doctors,” she says. 

Learn more about Candrian in CU Anschutz Today and on PBS NewsHour.