skip to Main Content

Rx for UK doctors: use plain English instead of Latin

LONDON – Doctors have long been berated for their seemingly unintelligible handwriting. Now they are invited to give up Latin.

In order to improve written communication with patients, an initiative unveiled this week by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges – which represents 250,000 physicians in Britain – encourages physicians to ditch confusing medical jargon and write to their patients directly in plain, simple English.

The project says that with more than five million outpatient visits per month in England, letters from outpatient clinics are “the most written letters” from the UK National Health Service.

Currently, letters are sent to the patient’s GP rather than the patient, which means doctors have to write about their patients instead of writing to them, which can create barriers in communication.

Dr Hugh Rayner, a kidney specialist who is leading the initiative, said that while the change may seem small, it has already had an effect in the pilot phase of the project.

“Writing to patients rather than about them changes the doctor-patient relationship,” Dr. Rayner said in an email. “It involves them more in their care and comes with all kinds of benefits. “

He added that “this change could have a big impact.”

Complicated medical terminology is often misinterpreted by patients and can cause confusion and anxiety, according to the academy. The proposed guidelines specify, for example:

• Avoid using words that can be confusing, such as “chronic”. While the term in medical circles means a long-standing illness, it is often interpreted by patients to mean “really bad.”

• When describing diagnoses, for example, instead of “renal”, use “kidney”.

• Instead of “acute”, use “.

• Instead of “atrial fibrillation”, use “irregular heartbeat”.

The advice also applies when prescribing medication: Doctors have been asked to use English such as “twice daily” instead of the Latin abbreviation “BD” (bis in die).

Beyond that, when including test results, depending on the academy, their importance should be explained and upsetting or unexpected results should be communicated by phone rather than letter.

And when doctors have to provide sensitive information, they might “soften the impact” by using a more aloof or evasive style such as “during the exam, the tremors and stiffness in your right arm suggest you have Sickness. Parkinson’s ”.

Lauren Cohen, a dental hygienist from east London, recalled receiving the results of a health problem by letter, but when she tried to call her doctor for an explanation, her assistant said that he was not available for two days.

“I went Google for the blood test results and they were off the charts,” she said by phone Wednesday. “I was completely panicked and had to ask a doctor friend to help me interpret them, but even then I wasn’t convinced because he wasn’t a specialist.

Patients who participated in the pilot said they found the new style of lettering to be more “informative, encouraging and useful.”

“I appreciate the letter addressed to me – the patient,” wrote one participant. “I can now understand the treatment I am receiving for my disease and I am happy to know that I am making progress along the way. “

Back To Top