In healthcare, effective communication is a vital skill for medical writers. It is not just a desirable skill – it’s a critical one. The success of medical professionals, as well as the safety of patients, depends on it. Yet, the medical field is known for its complex terminology, jargon, and acronyms that can confuse patients and healthcare providers.
In this article, we will discuss the importance of simplifying complex medical information and provide strategies to overcome the challenges of medical jargon.
Picture this: You’re sitting in a doctor’s office, anxiously waiting for them to explain what’s going on with your health. They start speaking, but it’s like they’ve switched to a foreign language. With their baffling terminology and complex abbreviations, medical jargon can turn a simple conversation into a frustrating puzzle.
Medical professionals use jargon without considering their audience, which creates a barrier to effective communication. People feel confused, overwhelmed, and ultimately disconnected from their health.
In a 2021 study held at the Minnesota State Fair, among 205 adult attendees, 91% of the study respondents preferred doctors who communicated without medical jargon. They also perceived doctors who spoke without jargon as good communicators, caring, empathetic, and approachable. The jargon-using doctors were viewed as confusing, too technical, and uncaring.
Plain language, as defined by the Center for Plain Language, is a way of writing and presenting information with clear wording, structure, and design so that the intended audience can easily find what they need, understand what they see, and act on it.
Plain language is a style of writing that puts the intended reader first. Simple language is direct, practical, thoughtful, well-organized, and active.
The benefits of using plain language in healthcare include:
Improved patient understanding. Simplified medical information helps patients understand the nature of their condition and the recommended treatment. This understanding empowers them to participate in healthcare decisions actively and influences patient well-being.
Enhanced compliance. Patients are more likely to follow prescribed treatments and adhere to medication regimens when they clearly understand their importance. This understanding can lead to better health outcomes.
Reduced medical errors. Misunderstandings due to medical jargon can lead to medical errors. Using plain language minimizes the likelihood of mistakes.
The hallmarks of using plain language include:
Know your audience. Tailor your communication to the patient’s level of health literacy. Ask them about their previous experiences with medical information and adapt your approach accordingly.
Test your content. Use free online tools like Hemingway to assess the clarity and readability of your content. Ask people from your target audience to read through the document and provide feedback.
Use everyday analogies. Explain medical concepts to everyday experiences that people can easily grasp. Analogies can make complex information relatable and more understandable. For example, compare the circulatory system to a network of roads and highways.
Tell stories. Share real-life stories and make medical information more engaging and relatable. Use narratives to bring the information to life. Stories help individuals to connect emotionally with the material.
Utilize visual aids. Incorporate diagrams, charts, and illustrations to complement your explanations. Visuals can make your writing magical and enhance your understanding of your audience.
Limit jargon, idioms, and expressions. Minimize the use of medical terminology and acronyms. If you must use them, provide clear explanations and definitions in simple terms. Use the clearest, most popular word for your audience.
Repeat and reinforce. Repeat key points throughout the conversation. Repetition helps reinforce understanding and retention.
Open communication. Encourage patients to ask questions and express concerns. Create an environment where they feel comfortable seeking clarification.
Using simple language in healthcare communication is more than just convenient—it’s critical for patient safety and empowerment. Embrace straightforward language in your writing to ensure that everyone, regardless of their medical knowledge, receives the necessary care and information in the healthcare industry.