Do Patients Understand Medical Terms?

"They've heard it before."
"Our patients know a lot about their condition."
"It's a common term."

I watch a TV show where a character's baby was recently stillborn. The doctor told her it was caused by a placental abruption. In the next episode, the grieving woman tried to explain to her mother. "I don't remember what he said," she sobbed. "Eruption? Interruption?" Continue reading...

Follow the plain-language path to reach patients and other health care consumers

You've probably heard of plain language. It's a movement for clear, simple English with the goal of making complex information easy to understand and act on.

You can find plain language in my favorite legal resources, the NOLO guides. The Plain Writing Act of 2010 is just one in a series of U.S. laws aimed at making government prose readable. Continue reading...

Why You Need Patient Education Materials

My friend Alice is a veteran of the health care system.

Working in the garden, writing a memoir, and baking are her preferred ways of spending time. But this dynamic retired legal assistant has had to call on her years of questioning and analytical skills to get the most basic answers from the clinic doing her back surgery. Continue reading...

Plain Language: Who Needs It?

"Low-literacy readers."
"Weak readers."
"Basic level."

These are common ways to describe patients and consumers who need content written at a fifth or sixth-grade reading level. Having co-led the Plain Language workshop at the American Medical Writers Association annual conference this year, I'm fired up about plain language and want to share some insights I think you can use. Continue reading...

What are Clinical Trial Summaries . . . and Why Should I Care?

Clinical trial summaries are a bit newer than many types of medical writing. I've talked to plenty of medical writers and editors who don't know what they are, though the word is spreading. When I started writing them in 2014 with an industry-leading company, they were really new, and the European Union rule that trial participants should receive a plain-language summary of the research was several years in the future. Continue reading...

Readability -- What is it and why does it matter?

If you write for the public, you probably know about readability formulas. In fact, every Microsoft Word user has access to these through the Check Grammar Option.

So if you’re concerned about patients’ ability to understand and use a document, can readability formulas help make it happen? Continue reading...

Let's Talk About Sex ... and Patient Education

It's the Halloween season (enjoy that office candy this week!). So the time is right to consider one of the scariest topics for many writers: how to discuss sex and other body functions in consumer writing. Continue reading...

Patients are People, Too

Albino. Mongoloid. Elderly primigravida. Do you know what these words mean?

A person with little or no pigment in skin, hair, and eyes. Someone with Down syndrome. And a woman 35 or older, pregnant for the first time. Once common medical usage, these terms are considered offensive today.

This article is designed to help you consider how your communications describe patients. It also reviews American Medical Association guidelines for writing about age, sex, and health conditions and introduces the concept of "person first" language. Continue reading...

5 Tips to Communicate Better

Want to get your message across better in 2015? Here are my top 5 tips for more effective communication.

Know the result you want. "Begin with the end in mind," Stephen Covey advises in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Many of us start projects without thinking them through, so here's a way to discover the result you want. Continue reading...