Doctors told to ‘ditch Latin and use English’
  • Ever scratch your head trying to understand letters you receive from hospital?
  • Even more of a mystery today, now that it’s difficult to talk to your GP

Well, here is an extract from my personal ‘doctor’s dictionary, giving a translation of recent words that puzzled me in the latest letters:

  • oedema = swelling or fluid
  • seizure = fit
  • syncope = faint
  • acute = sudden or short-term
  • chronic = long-term or persistent
  • cerebral = brain
  • coronary = heart
  • hepatic = liver
  • pulmonary = lung
  • renal = kidney
  • Dyspnoea = breathlessness

We’ve probably all got similar examples, and we have to try and Google them.  But with the current crisis doctors, advice from The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges is even more important.  They avdises doctors to write letters that are easier for patients to understand, now we no longer ask our GP for translation.

Keep it simple

Some time ago there was a ‘Please Write to Me’ initiative aimed mainly at doctors working in outpatient clinics. and this seems to have percolated down – although I still have to use Google at least once with every letter I receive.  But this is a definite improvement on those I used to receive!

Keep it suitable

Another consideration is the tone of the letter. A familiar style, such as: “It was a pleasure to meet you and your husband for the first time,” might sometimes be appropriate – but at other times a more distant or formal style might be appreciated, say the guidelines.

Doctors are asked to avoid potentially stigmatising words: “‘You have diabetes,’ is better than ‘You are diabetic.'”

They should think about softening the impact of potentially sensitive information by using a more non-committal style, as with: “During the examination, the tremor and stiffness in your right arm suggest that you have Parkinson’s disease.”

Hospital doctors should also consider telephoning the patients rather than breaking bad news in the letter if test results are potentially upsetting, the academy says.

Dr Hugh Rayner, a kidney specialist, who first started writing directly to patients in 2005, says:

  1. “The change may seem small but it has a big effect.
  2. “Writing to patients rather than about them changes the relationship between doctor and patient.
  3. “It involves them more in their care and leads to all sorts of benefits.
  4. “Millions of clinic letters are written every month in the NHS so this change could have a big impact.”

The Royal College of GPs is also on board. Vice-chair Prof Kamila Hawthorne 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.

“By hospital doctors writing any letters directly to patients, with their GP copied in so we are always aware of what is happening regarding our patient’s care, it should make the process more patient-centred, and make them feel more involved in their care, which will be beneficial for everyone.

If this means I can read a letter headed NHS without having to consult Google, bring it on. 

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