Posted By Lexington Writing Firm on 09/24/2021

Plain Language: What Is It and Why Is It Important for Healthcare Content?

Plain Language: What Is It and Why Is It Important for Healthcare Content?

To get the best health outcomes, it is vital that health-related decisions are based on an accurate understanding of health information and services. Using plain language for all patient-facing content is essential to empower your patients with the accurate, relevant information they need.

What is plain language?

The Plain Writing Act of 2010 — a government act to enhance access to information and services — defines plain language as, “writing that is clear, concise, well organized and follows other best practices appropriate to the subject or field and intended audience.”

This can mean eliminating jargon, using commonly understood words and phrases, and clearly defining all terms. 

It is also often recommended that content be written at an eighth-grade reading level, which is the reading level of most adults in America, according to a study by the Literacy Project. 

Though most adults read at an eighth-grade reading level, 20 percent of the population reads at or below a fifth-grade level.

The American Academy of Family Physicians, therefore, recommends that all patient education material be written at a sixth-grade or lower reading level, preferably including pictures and illustrations. 

Why is it important for healthcare?

Healthcare content that is confusing or unclear contributes to obstacles to accessing care, such as a patient’s ability to complete forms proficiently or understand next steps for follow-up care. 

A 2016 report by the Centers for Disease Control found that understanding medical information and resources was associated with effective disease self-care, appropriate use of health services and recommended prevention behaviors, such as vaccinations, physical exercise and avoiding tobacco products. 

The report also stated that, “when health information is delivered in a person’s native language and in a culturally comfortable context, when information is presented clearly and in sufficient detail to everyone, and when that information is readily available to all, group differences in health risks and outcomes diminish.”

Key takeaways for healthcare communicators and marketers: 

Navigating the healthcare system can be overwhelming for patients of all backgrounds and reading levels, making it imperative that it is as simple and easy to navigate as possible for all patients.

Takeaway 1: Test your content

When you are creating content, sometimes it can be difficult to know what other people don’t know or might find confusing. If you want to gauge your current site or other materials, try a free online tool like the Hemingway App. It will tell you what reading level your writing is at and which sentences are too complex or might be confusing.

Takeaway 2: Choose words carefully

It is best to write in short, active sentences, using words and numbers your audience knows. Keeping sentences and paragraphs short can help make your content more easily digestible for a wider audience. 

Takeaway 3: Make information easy to find

Using headings and text boxes is a simple but effective way to break up your content and ensure your information is as straightforward and to the point as possible, minimizing the risk of confusion.

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