Lose the Lingo, Keep Your Patients

September 12, 2016: Tina Mortimer, Senior Writer

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

Are you guilty of using “medicalese” in your marketing? That is jargon, acronyms and technical-speak that only healthcare professionals and few others will understand? You’re not alone.

The use of esoteric language is pervasive in the healthcare industry. It’s such a problem, in fact, that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services created a national action plan to encourage the use of plain language and improve health literacy.

While medicalese may work well when used among healthcare professionals, it can cause even some of your most savvy patients’ eyes to glaze over. It’s important to remember that while the average American adult reads at an eighth-grade level, 20% of adults read at or below the fifth-grade level. If you want to reach all of your patients—and not lose them to another practice or facility—you’ll need to translate all that medical mumbo jumbo into simple, easy to understand language.

Be clear, not condescending.

Plain language cuts through the clutter and confusing terms and makes it easier for everyone to understand health information. However, because the language is plain does not mean it should be “dumbed down” or condescending. Rather, plain language uses common, everyday words, short, grammatically correct sentences and other writing techniques that make health information easier to digest.

The goal is to sound professional, not pompous. For healthcare professionals, this can be as simple as replacing complex medical terms with commonly used words and phrases. For example, people don’t aspirate; they breathe. People don’t worry about their blood glucose; they worry about their blood sugar. And when they’re in pain, it’s not localized. It’s in one damn spot. You get the point.

Here are a few other full-sentence examples:

“Say what?”

We recommend you visit the Nephrology Department to further evaluate your renal function.

Use this instead

We’d like you to visit our kidney specialist to determine how well your kidneys are working. 

“Say what?”

The vaccination may cause some children to experience mild side effects, including redness and inflammation, near the injection site.  

Use this instead

Your child may experience redness or swelling in the area where the shot was given. This is normal and should go away within 2–3 days.

“Say what?”

The doctor will palpate your child’s abdomen to determine the source of pain.

Use this instead

The doctor will feel around your child’s stomach to pinpoint where it hurts.

It can be a challenge for those in healthcare to write compelling copy that can be easily understood, but does sound not overly-simplified or condescending.  An experienced marketing agency or consultant with a focus on healthcare can help you communicate with your patients in a way that’s all-inclusive and accessible.

For more examples, check out this handy translation guide that lists frequently used terms and their common, everyday alternatives (created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

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