You probably don’t realize that your style of writing is getting in the way of effective doctor-patient communications and would probably earn you no more than a C-minus grade in high-school English. Here are three big reasons why and three ways you can improve your written communications…
Who are you writing to?
Most experts agree that the average American reads at a 7th or 8th grade level, and many newspapers are written at a 5th grade level. Yet, most healthcare writing targets 11th or 12th grade readers. Are you talking over the heads of most of your patients? Will older and less educated patients understand the clinical language of your written instructions and be able to comply?
To capitalize or not to capitalize
Medical and dental specialties, subspecialties and procedures are not proper nouns and should not be capitalized, ever. Yet doctors, dentists, physical therapists, nurses and other extremely well-educated healthcare providers commit this error consistently in their writing. Here’s an example:
“I chose Orthopedics as my specialty because I thought I would enjoy doing Arthroscopic procedures.” There is no reason to capitalize “orthopedics” or “arthroscopic” even if they are important to you.
Silence the passive voice
Healthcare writing is typically passive writing. If you don’t know the difference between active and passive writing, you won’t understand the impact on the reader.
Active voice occurs when you write a sentence where the subject performs the action stated by the verb. Passive voice occurs when the subject is acted upon by the verb. Passive voice always uses variations of the “to be” verb and avoids using the first person. Here are some examples that illustrate the difference.
A bad review was written by the patient. (passive)
The patient wrote a bad review. (active)
These advanced surgeries will be performed three days per week. (passive)
We perform these advanced surgeries three days per week. (active)
Staff training is offered at our practice annually. (passive)
We offer staff training annually. (active)
Sentences written in an active voice are more readable, flow better and are easier to understand. Active sentences tend to have fewer words than passive sentences, making it easier for readers to get their meaning.
Passive sentences are harder to understand because they require more words. They are awkward and vague because they lack any discernable action. They distance the writer from the reader rather than bringing them closer together, which should be the goal of all good written communication.