“Write directly to patients”, doctors advised

HOSPITAL doctors should avoid medical jargon and write outpatient clinic letters in plain English directly to patients, rather than to GPs.

New guidance from the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AoMRC) recommends using terminology that is easier to understand, for example, writing ‘kidney’ instead of ‘renal’ and clearly explaining the meaning of technical terms or acronyms such as ‘atrial fibrillation’ or ‘CRT-D’.

Latin phrases such as ‘bd’ should be avoided in favour of their plain English equivalent (‘twice daily’), and any medication changes should be highlighted in bold.

There are more than five million outpatient visits per month in England, making outpatient clinic letters the most-written letters in the NHS. Traditionally they are addressed directly to the GP, with a copy sent to the patient. But the AoMRC has said it now considers it best practice to write directly to the patient and copy in their GP. Switching the focus in this way, the Academy said, should mean GPs spend less time interpreting the correspondence for patients and “should also avoid awkwardness caused by writing about patients in the third person.”

A clearer writing style will mean patients can more easily share information with relatives and carers, and give them an opportunity to let clinicians know about any errors. While doctors may initially spend more time writing letters in the new style, the Academy said they will quickly adjust and may find improvements to the way they communicate with patients during consultations as a result.

The guidance added: “Patients should find it easier to understand what the hospital doctor has written and hence be better able to take in the information and advice. They will have a written record of their outpatient consultation that they can show to others.” GPs should also find the letters easier to understand and have fewer patients asking them to explain what the hospital doctor has written.

Read the full guidance on the AoMRC website