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Keep it simple, stupid

Sean Brown

We recently featured a blog by the Patient Information Forum’s Claire Murray about why it’s so important for people to have easy access to good quality health information. If that’s the case then why, asks Sean Brown, are so many healthcare professionals using terminology that is utterly meaningless to service users?

You may think that sticky toffee pudding is a type of dessert that is definitely in the ‘occasional treat’ category… but you’d be wrong. It is, in fact, among some of the most important developments in healthcare in recent years. Really?

Sticky toffee puddings – or sustainability and transformation plans (STPs) – is just one example of the nonsensical jargon that is being bandied about by healthcare leaders in meetings all across the UK.

According to the Plain English Campaign (PEC) most healthcare plans are littered with odd, seemingly meaningless phrases.

In England, for example, one NHS Foundation Trust discussed investing in ‘system-wide quality improvements’ and developing a ‘shared understanding of all the interrelated issues’.

Elsewhere, documents from North Central London explained why one patient’s care went wrong, which was due to ‘hand-offs, inefficiencies and suboptimal advice and information transfers’ that lead to the ‘patient’s pathway’ continuing for too long.

Another popular pathway is the ‘ambulatory patient pathway’. What does that mean? The patient can go home after being seen in hospital.

Northern Ireland doesn’t escape PEC’s ire, either. Last autumn’s Systems, Not Structures – Changing Health and Social Care report delivered by Professor Rafael Bengoa baffled many ordinary folk.

Its 10-year health strategy promised to shift the focus from ‘treatment of periods of acute illness and reactive crisis approaches towards a model underpinned by a more holistic approach to health and social care’.

In other words, encourage people to live more healthily and give them better support to prevent them from needing hospital care.

PEC spokesman Steve Jenner says the health service is riddled with jargon when it comes to explaining anything from the closure of hospital services to major incidents. And he thinks it could be on purpose.

“If you use impenetrable language it means the public has no clue what is going on. I can’t help thinking that suits the NHS sometimes,” he said.

“What this jargon is describing is very important. It should be articulated very clearly. We expect doctors to clearly explain themselves. It should be the same for the NHS management,” he added.

We heartily agree it should come from the top level down for dissemination across all shared platforms…

Have you come across any healthcare jargon that has baffled or simply annoyed you?

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Marian 24-Jul-2017 at 17:26 hrs

Totally agree with Doreen. Well said!


Doreen Patton 17-Jul-2017 at 20:20 hrs

As a retired nurse, I find it very frustrating that so much jargon is now used throughout our care system here. Not only does it put you off reading the article but if you have the courage to plough through all the stupid terminology you don't get the true meaning of it anyway. Maybe that is the intention! Can any person who writes these documents, please, explain why they resort to such nonsense. You continuely see stupid names for departments and areas in the hospital setting. Please just call a spade a spade.