Doctors warned to cut confusing or alarming jargon when talking to patients

Doctors have been issued with guidelines to avoid medical jargon (Getty)

Doctors have been instructed to cut the jargon when talking to patients.

Hospital doctors and outpatient clinicians have been given guidelines, including writing their letters in a style catered to patients, rather than to their GPs.

The Guidelines, issued by Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, have been introduced in an effort to bring clarity for patients, give them reassurance and avoid confusion, mistakes or offence.

There are more than five million outpatient visits a month in England alone, producing a vast number of notes that are usually sent back to family doctors.

These notes often contain complex medical jargon, Latin terms or abbreviations that are incomprehensible without specialist knowledge.

Professor Camilla Hawthorn, vice chair of the Royal College of GPs, said that anatomical or medical terms such as dysphagia (problems swallowing) and dyspnea (shortness of breath) can often alarm patients who may have never heard them before and become increasingly concerned about their health.

The jargon can cause patients to worry about their condition

She told Today on BBC Radio 4: “We welcome this initiative. We all know that patients are and should be at the heart of everything we do. We do spend quite a lot of time translating to patients what has happened during the course of their journey through hospital.”

The guidance states: ”Communicating effectively with patients is central to being a good doctor.”

“Writing an outpatient clinic letter directly to the patient, rather than sending them a copy of a letter sent to their GP, can greatly improve communication with a patient.

“Patients who receive such letters much prefer them, are very appreciative, and would like more doctors to write them in this way.”


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Doctors’ letters must meet clinical requirements set by the Professional Record Standards Body, although the academy has launched the Please Write to Me initiative to improve patients’ understanding of the notes.

The academy says writing directly to patients can help them cope with their conditions, remember all the information hospital doctors give them and relay it to family and carers.

It could also help a patient spot if an outpatient doctor has made a mistake with their personal details or medical requirements.

“Patients find the letters more informative, supportive and useful,” the advice states.

“Writing directly to the patient or the parent/guardian should also avoid awkwardness caused by writing about patients in the third person.”

The advice also recommends doctors write in a more “distant and noncommittal style” when trying to soften the impact of potentially sensitive information.

Meanwhile it warns that a letter is “rarely the best way to break upsetting news”.

The academy says the guidelines mean hospital doctors will have to learn a new skill, which could initially mean the letters take longer to write.

However it says it will not increase costs as letters rarely need to be written directly to the GP.

Furthermore the new method may avoid the need for a GP to explain an outpatient doctor’s letter at a later appointment.

The academy says the outpatient doctors letters should record relevant information about a patient’s health and wellbeing and present it in a way they understand, as well as relaying it to their GP.

“These three things are best achieved by a well-structured, informative, easy-to-read and engaging letter,” the advice adds.