British doctors urged to write letters to patients in plain English
The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges encourages doctors to write their outpatient clinic letters directly to patients. And to write these letters in plain English. In plain English doctors can give patients the information they want or need to know in a way they can understand.
What is the goal of the outpatient letter?
The outpatient letter has three goals:
- Record facts about the patient’s health.
- Communicate a plan to the patient and the General Practitioner.
- Present information in a way that improves understanding.
Writing in plain English
Not all doctors find it easy to write in plain English. For them an online plain English course can be helpful. The crash course Writing in Plain English is a good start. Doctors who want to improve their skills can also do the full course Writing in Plain English.
General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and plain language
From 25 May 2018 the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) applies. The objective of the General Data Protection Regulation is to strengthen data protection for all individuals within the European Union. The regulation does not require national governments to pass any enabling legislation. It therefore applies to every resident of the European Union from 25 May 2018. Two things are important. European residents have to give consent to process personal data. And the request for consent must be written in plain language. There is a European standard for plain language. And what is plain language is measurable.
The processing of personal data is lawful only, subject to a few exceptions, if a person has given consent. He has to give consent to the processing of his personal data for specific purposes. And the organisation must be able to demonstrate that the person has consented to processing of his personal data.
The request for consent must be written in plain language
Article 7-2 of the GDPR requires that the request for consent must be presented in ‘clear and plain language’. A person must be aware of the fact that and the extent to which he has given consent. So an organisation must write in plain language what are the purposes of the processing of personal data. This also holds for technologically complex practices, which make it difficult for an individual to know and understand for what purposes his personal data are collected and processed. For example in the case of online advertising.
Children merit specific protection, the GDPR says. So where an organisation addresses communication about personal data to a child, the organisation must write things in such a clear and plain language that the child can easily understand.
What is plain language?
The question is: What is plain language? At the beginning of this century the Council of Europe developed the so-called Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. With this Common European Framework we are able to measure the language level or the language proficiency of individuals. And to measure the language level or the difficulty of texts.
Common European Framework of Reference for Languages
The Common European Framework distinguishes six language levels: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2, A1 being the lowest level and C2 the highest. Most organisations usually write their texts at language level C1. At the same time some 60% of the population has language level B1. Therefore, most people do not understand these texts.
Plain language is language level B1
On the other hand, if you write at language level B1, 95% of the population understands your text. While the content of your text stays exactly the same. That is why language level B1 is called plain language.