Dr Bina Parmar, Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon & Medical Adviser to MAPS Medical Reporting, discusses why doctors should change their communication style to avoid mistranslation.
Communicating effectively with patients is central to being a good doctor. Not only does it embrace the General Medical Council’s (GMC) principle of ‘Good medical practice’, it also ensures that patients understand the information that is given to them by their General Practitioner (GP).
In September 2018, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges published guidance to encourage doctors to write outpatient clinic letters in a more straightforward and simple manner. The guidance recommends a change in practice from patients getting a copy of a letter addressed to the GP as standard, to doctors writing to the patient directly to avoid confusion.
The purpose of the outpatient letter is to record relevant facts about the patient’s health and wellbeing, present information that improves understanding and communicate a management plan to the GP and patient. Not of much use unless the patient understands it.
Research led by Dr Gillian Rowlands of King’s College London, found that 43% of England’s working age population struggles to understand health information presented to them.
People may find themselves in this all too familiar situation as medical terminology is comprised of largely Latin and Greek prefixes and suffixes, and is often spoken in a code. To the large majority of patients who aren’t familiar with the jargon, information can easily get lost in translation. This can make it more challenging to communicate their concerns and can lead to them interpreting information in the wrong way.
The benefits of discouraging the use of medical jargon in outpatient letters
Having worked in the NHS for more than 20 years and seeing first-hand how information can be misinterpreted, and the subsequent stress it causes both patients and doctors, I’m hoping that this initiative will be welcomed by patients, GPs, medico legal services and other health professionals.
If the use of medical jargon is discouraged, the entire processing of medical records will be expedited, speeding up the medico legal process and giving real clarity on the contents, allowing us to provide quality reports.
Doctors who have taken this new approach on board are already reaping the benefits, reporting that patient feedback has stated how informative and supportive the new communication style is. The stripped back, plain language has made it much easier for patients to understand what is being said to them, saving GPs and nurses from having to decipher and interpret letters.
How MAPS Medical Reporting can help
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