The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, of which we are a member, has published guidance to help and encourage hospital doctors to write most of their outpatient clinic letters directly to patients and send a copy of the letter to the patient’s General Practitioner. Doctors who have adopted the practice say their communication style has become more patient centred. GPs find the letters easier to understand and spend less time interpreting the content for the patient. Most importantly, patients find such letters more informative, supportive and useful.
The new guidance sets out simple steps to make the letters and emails more intelligible, including:
- Avoid the use of Latin. For example, use the phrase ‘twice daily’ rather than the Latin abbreviation bd (bis die)
- Use plain English wherever possible, with short sentences and one subject matter in each paragraph
- Use the second and first person pronouns rather than write in the third person and use active rather than passive verbs.
- Avoid words that are open to misinterpretation. Chronic is often taken to mean ‘really bad’ rather than ‘long-standing’, which is the medical definition.
- Explain acronyms that are often incomprehensible to non-specialists as well as patients.
It also suggests that hospital doctors should consider telephoning the patients rather than breaking bad news in the letter if test results are potentially upsetting.
To read the full guidance, go to http://www.aomrc.org.uk.