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Our written prescription for medical folk

Doctors and the healthcare industry have unique problems with the way they communicate. Medical terms and words can feel like a foreign language. (Sometimes what’s written literally is, with Latin origins that aren’t generally in use.)

We’ve written about medical language before, and this topic’s been in the news again – doctor’s orders are to write letters that are easier for patients to understand.

To build on what we’ve already shared, here are our observations and tips to help make sure patients don’t feel like they’re in an episode of Casualty.

Patients rely on clear communication

Good communication and interpersonal skills are powerful tools in any first aid kit. Doctors run the risk that their patients won’t understand basic health information. In turn there’s less chance they can make good decisions about their diagnosis and how to look after themselves. It’s too easy for patients to misinterpret things like warnings on prescriptions and medication small print.

They often have to translate medical language into plain English

Michael Johnson tweets about having a 'Transient Ischemic Attack', or mini stroke

The once fastest man over 200m & 400m simplified his diagnosis for us, in a way most of us will understand. Who would ordinarily know what a ‘transient ischemic attack’ is?

Don’t hide behind scientific jargon

Hospital or surgery letters shouldn’t need someone with a medical degree to be able to translate what’s been said. So try:

  • ditching all the Latin words and phrases – use words that make patients feel you understand them
  • being consistent with the terminology you and medical professionals use
  • cutting out platitudes like “It was a pleasure to meet you”, and get to your point quickly. (These are often used as crutches to soften giving difficult news.)
  • writing more like you speak – imagine a patient sat with you (a classic bedside chat).

Trust me, I’m a writer

Find us @TheWriter, and share your best and worst medical speak.

0 min read, posted in Writing tips, by The Writer, on 17 Sep 2018