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Do you Speak a Patient-friendly Language?

On the way to a patient-centered treatment culture, patient communication is an important component.

Understandable for All

While some patients have become familiar with all medical terms in the course of their illness, others have difficulty with technical terms and quite a few are overwhelmed by long passages of text. Foreign-language, exhausted or elderly patients are particularly dependent on help. This is already taken into account as far as possible in patient information.

  • Clearly structured content and texts, web content and information flyers that are as simply formulated as possible and reduced to the essentials are the goal.

The right Measure

Neither too much nor too little information is helpful. Patients must be well prepared for the operation. An explanation of the risks, the necessary preparation, packing list etc. is a must. Registration forms must be sent in advance so that they can be filled out and submitted upon admission to hospital.

In the midst of extensive information, instructions and forms, many patients are quickly overwhelmed: Important preparations are forgotten, appointments are overlooked, forms are left at home.

  • The goal is to do as little as possible, as much as necessary. Where available, further, digitally available information or information events/documents should be offered.

In 2020 we expect the electronic patient dossier (EPD) in Switzerland and thus clear signals for more digitization in the health care system. What can be expected in terms of "patient"?

"Digitally available content offers new possibilities, also in terms of a language that is patient friendly. With digital patient interaction, communication can be tailored more precisely to the course of treatment and more individually to patient needs."

Mobile devices and digitally available content offer new possibilities

Using the example of a planned operation, this could look like this:

  • The appointment invitation is displayed directly via the patient app, when accepting an appointment, this is displayed also in the users' calendar;

  • Prior to the appointment, the content that prepares the patient for the procedure is displayed in the app;

  • This content is available as text, further information is linked, also videos are displayed. Ideally an online translation service is available;

  • The patients address, insurance- and other personal data required for administration and the preparation of the procedure can also be entered or updated in advance;

  • Two days before the appointment, the most important information is displayed again. Information about sobriety phase, packing list, that a taxi should be organized and further information;

  • All contents, including the calendar entry, can be shared as required with trusted persons so that they can assist the patient or, for example, the employer is informed about the operation.

The criteria "understandable for all" and "the right measure" also apply here

In order to make additional appointment information "understandable for all", it is worthwhile to define this information in a uniform way throughout the hospital: What content is included in a digital schedule and who translates it into an easy-to-understand language? A small selection of possible contents:

  • Time and duration of the intervention (with indication of expected recovery time)

  • Location (should patients report to reception or directly to the ward?)

  • Health professional or treatment team

  • General information (what can the patient expect, what does he/she have to bring along? Does he/she have to be sober or appear with a full bladder? How long does the appointment/stay last in total?)

  • Educational content (document, video, pictures)

  • Questionnaire (e.g. structured anamnesis/case history)

  • Packing List

  • Medication list (what must be taken before the appointment, what must not be taken, when must blood thinners be discontinued)

The considerations about "the right measure" are shown by the following example of three possible translations.

  1. "Operation" - The patient knows that she is being operated and hopes that the treatment indeed is focusing on her knee. This translation provides too little information and can lead to confusion or unnecessary questions.

  2. "Knee surgery" - The patient knows that she will be operated on the knee and has been informed about the details. The information content of this translation is appropriate and sufficient.

  3. "Knee operation with meniscus removal" - This translation contains too much information, because the doctor had clarified in the explanatory talk that she will first look at the meniscus and try to preserve it. If this is not possible, the meniscus will be removed. With this translation the patient might fear that the doctor will now remove the meniscus in any case.


Whether in the course of digital patient interaction or for the optimization of existing paper documents, it is worthwhile to introduce a language that is patient friendly across hospitals so that all areas and departments speak the same patient language.

This enables patients to take an active role in their own course of illness from the very beginning.

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