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Best Practices for Using Plain Language in Medical Communications

Doctor talking to patient.

Adequately communicating with a patient during medical interactions requires using easy-to-understand language.

Health-related terminology can be relatively complex. Words, terms, and phrases commonly used in medicine are not used in everyday speech by the general population and can be hard to understand. Therefore, using plain language in medical communications is an objective most care providers must work to achieve. 

Below is a deeper explanation of plain language and the best practices for using this simpler language in medical communications. 

What Is Plain Language?

Plain language is clear, easily understandable, and concise communication in either written or spoken form that delivers information in a way a patient understands. The patient can then make informed decisions about their care. The Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN) states that plain language should be easy for the general public to read and understand. 

The Plain Writing Act of 2010 set forth executive orders highlighting the overall need for plain language in government communications. However, these ideas can also benefit other industries and organizations, such as healthcare. 

Simply put, plain language ensures patients understand the health information being given to them and how to use it. Reports on health literacy have found that there is often a mismatch between the information on health being delivered to a patient and what that patient understands. For certain groups, such as senior patients, marginalized racial or ethnic groups, and non-native English speakers, reading or understanding health information can be even more of a challenge. 

Plain Language Best Practices Checklist 

Specifics of following plain language practices can vary depending on the type of information being delivered and the actual audience's needs. However, the general best practices include: 

  • Organizing the information so the most important points are delivered first 
  • Breaking down complex ideas into easily scannable or digestible sections 
  • Using simple terms and phrases and explaining overly technical terms 
  • Make sure sentences are short; avoid complex sentence structures 
  • Eliminate excess or unnecessary words, such as unnecessary descriptive adjectives 

The primary goal of using plain language is to deliver clear, effective information. Likewise, you are not necessarily speaking or writing at a specific grade level; instead, you focus on ensuring the intended audience understands. 

Ensure Effective Communication With Adequate Language Support 

Using plain language is always a step in the right direction regarding healthcare communication. However, a good language support plan is just as important. Need help with effective LEP patient communication? Find out how GLOBO can help. 

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