Like solicitors, private schools and Catholic priests, it seems some of our doctors just can’t let go of the Latin. Ian Ray, our Head of Copy, lends his support to a new call for clear English in health conversations.
An initiative launched today by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges is asking hospital doctors to use clear language to describe medical conditions, rather than acronyms, jargon or the odd remnant of a classical language.
The importance of keeping it simple should be self-evident; if people are to make informed decisions about their health, they must be able to understand those decisions.
And some of the principles of clear English the academy has issued today will be familiar to anyone who cares about clear communication. Doctors are being advised to use short sentences, to use active rather than passive verbs and to swap out troublesome words (such as ‘cerebral’) for simpler equivalents (‘brain’).
Much of the time, hospital doctors are using this language simply because they’re writing to a patient’s GP following an outpatient appointment. But with 5m of these letters circulated each month – and 5m patients copied in – it’s easy to see why the academy is concerned.
We’ve all read about ourselves in one of those texts intended for someone else, and it’s rarely pleasant. For a patient, it can be a surreal experience reading about themselves in the third person, in a letter full of incomprehensible language.
It’s exactly this issue that the “Please write to me” campaign seeks to avoid, in asking hospital doctors to get in touch with the patient directly, and in their terms.
How feasible it is for stretched hospital doctors to write two letters remains to be seen, but the principle at the heart of this campaign is an absolutely necessary one for patients.