Doctors encouraged to write directly to patients using plain English

Doctor typing on keyboard

The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AMRC) has developed guidance to help and encourage hospital doctors to write their outpatient clinic letters in plain English.

According to the guidance,
Please, write to me
, doctors “must give patients the information they want or need to know in a way they can understand”. The AMRC says that writing letters directly to patients helps to meet this requirement.

The guidance covers general aspects of writing letters and applies to those sent on paper and electronically, and notes that doctors must use plain English where possible, avoiding Latin words, acronyms and complex medical jargon.

It says that outpatient letters should fulfil three aims: to record relevant facts about the patient’s health and wellbeing; to present information in a way that improves understanding; and to communicate a management plan to the patient and GP. And it says that these aims are best achieved by “a well-structured, informative, easy to read and engaging letter”.

The guidance refers doctors to the Professional Record Standards Body, where the standards for outpatient letters are laid out. It also suggests the use of tools, such as the Flesch reading-ease score, to measure readability. 

Kamila Hawthorne, vice chair at the Royal College of GPs, said hospital doctors writing directly to patients, and copying in GPs, should make the patient feel more involved with their treatment.

”However, it must result in a patient-centred letter that allows the patient to understand what has happened, what has been found, and what the future plan should be,” she 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.”

 

Last updated
Citation
The Pharmaceutical Journal, September 2018;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2018.20205403