Medics told to ditch Latin and use plain English

Business Daily (Kenya) - - LIFE: HEALTH -

Doc­tors are be­ing told to adopt a new pol­icy of writ­ing let­ters that are eas­ier for pa­tients to un­der­stand. The Academy of Med­i­cal Royal Col­leges says too of­ten cor­re­spon­dence con­tains com­plex med­i­cal jar­gon rather than plain and sim­ple English. Us­ing the phrase "twice daily" to ex­plain the dos­ing of a medicine is bet­ter than the Latin ab­bre­vi­a­tion "bd", for ex­am­ple. Pa­tients should ask their lo­cal hos­pi­tal to com­ply, the academy says. The Please Write to Me ini­tia­tive is aimed mainly at doc­tors work­ing in out­pa­tient clin­ics, although it is best prac­tice for all clin­i­cians who need to write clin­i­cal let­ters. Doc­tors are be­ing asked to write di­rectly to pa­tients, rather than send­ing them a copy of a let­ter penned to their gen­eral prac­ti­tioner (GP). The academy says this should help avoid blun­ders or o ence caused by writ­ing about pa­tients in the third per­son.


It cites the ex­am­ple of a sur­geon branded sex­ist af­ter prais­ing a fa­ther for "man­fully step­ping in" to take his daugh­ter to a hos­pi­tal ap­point­ment when his wife was too ill. An­other con­sid­er­a­tion is the tone of the let­ter. A fa­mil­iar style, such as: "It was a plea­sure to meet you and your hus­band for the rst time," might some­times be ap­pro­pri­ate — but at other times a more dis­tant or for­mal style might be ap­pre­ci­ated, say the guide­lines. Doc­tors are asked to avoid po­ten­tially stig­ma­tis­ing words: "'You have di­a­betes,' is bet­ter than 'You are di­a­betic.'" They should think about soft­en­ing the im­pact of po­ten­tially sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion by us­ing a more non-com­mit­tal style, as with: "Dur­ing the ex­am­i­na­tion, the tremor and sti ness in your right arm sug­gest that you have Parkin­son's dis­ease." And any med­i­cal words should be trans­lated in plain English. For ex­am­ple: • "Dysp­noea" should in­stead be "breath­less­ness" • oedema = swelling or uid • seizure = t • syn­cope = faint • acute = sud­den or short­term • chronic = long-term or per­sis­tent • cere­bral = brain • coro­nary = heart • he­patic = liver • pul­monary = lung • re­nal = kid­ney • pae­di­atric = chil­dren Hos­pi­tal doc­tors should also con­sider tele­phon­ing the pa­tients rather than break­ing bad news in the let­ter if test re­sults are po­ten­tially up­set­ting, the academy says. The ini­tia­tive is be­ing led by Dr Hugh Rayner, a kid­ney spe­cial­ist, who rst started writ­ing di­rectly to pa­tients in 2005. He said: "The change may seem small but it has a big ef­fect. "Writ­ing to pa­tients rather than about them changes the re­la­tion­ship be­tween doc­tor and pa­tient. "It in­volves them more in their care and leads to all sorts of bene ts. "Mil­lions of clinic let­ters are writ­ten ev­ery month in the NHS so this change could have a big im­pact." The Royal Col­lege of GPS is also on board. Vice-chair Kamila Hawthorne said: "I have seen a num­ber of pa­tients who have asked me to 'trans­late' the let­ter they have re­ceived from the hos­pi­tal, which has been lit­tle more than a med­i­cal sum­mary. "By hos­pi­tal doc­tors writ­ing any let­ters di­rectly to pa­tients, with their GP copied in so we are al­ways aware of what is hap­pen­ing re­gard­ing our pa­tient's care, it should make the process more pa­tient-cen­tred, and make them feel more in­volved in their care, which will be bene cial for every­one."

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