HSE to use plain English with patients

Doctor and patient cartoon - from the HSE Communicating Clearly guidelines

Can you always understand your doctor?

Being in hospital can be really stressful. We often don’t understand medical information from doctors and sometimes we don’t even know who is a trained doctor and who isn’t. We might also feel embarrassed to ask for details to be repeated or explained – so we could leave an appointment feeling more confused and stressed than when we went in.

To deal with this problem, the HSE has recently launched  Communicating Clearly guidelines to show staff how they can use plain English with patients and service users (and, quite rightly, it says to avoid the term ‘service users’ when writing for the public). It covers ways to make all writing more readable, such as using ordinary words where possible or, where that’s not possible, to clearly explain the jargon or technical terms

Many government agencies and large companies could learn a lot from these guidelines!

Here’s an extract:

We write so that those we care for can understand our letters and instructions.

  • We use clear language and everyday words.
  • We write it as we would say it, using plain language.
  • We avoid using jargon, abbreviations and acronyms.
  • We use a font that is easy to read, such as Helvetica or Arial.
  • We clearly explain the purpose of our letters and documents.
  • We ask non-medical staff to check that our letters and documents are easy to understand.
  • We use ‘I’, ‘we’ and ‘you’ to personalise our letters and documents.
  • We use short sentences and paragraphs.
  • We give our contact details so the reader can contact us for more information.