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  • Writer's pictureAdeen Shahid, DPT

How to Simplify Medical Jargon for Your Readers

Updated: May 18


How to simplify medical jargon for your readers cover page

Unsure how to simplify complex medical jargon into plain, accessible language your readers can understand? Get the tips every health writer needs to know.



In this article:



 

Did you know that 88% of adults in the US struggle to understand the health info they come across? Lower health literacy means people need more straightforward words to help them navigate the healthcare world and stay healthy. Medical jargon could be a reason for this lower health literacy rate.


The stats above make a dire need to simplify medical jargon for your non-medical readers to help them understand their health and make better health choices.


Medical jargon often feels like a foreign language to those outside the medical field. With complex terminology and abbreviations, understanding conversations with healthcare professionals or reading medical documents can be overwhelming for non-medical readers.


Before learning how to simplify complex medical terminology, it is important to understand why simplification is necessary.



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Why is simplifying medical jargon important?


Imagine you go to a real estate office or visit their website. The promotors in the office or the website contain real estate jargon like “property appraisal” and “adjustable rate mortgages.” Would you leave the office or the website with a clear note in your mind? Or would you choose to go somewhere else where you find plain language information?


The same scenario happens to patients or non-medical audiences. The reason they visit your clinic or website is to get information or a solution for any medical condition.


Talking to patients in plain language is the best way to make them feel understood and engaged.


Simplifying medical jargon:


1. Enhances patient’s understanding of their health.

2. Empower patients to make informed decisions.

3. Boosts adherence to treatment plans.

4. Improves overall health literacy.

5. Builds trust between patients and providers.

6. Facilitates understanding of preventive measures.

7. Encourages open communication and patient questions.


Now that the WHY is clear, let's move on to the HOW.





How to simplify medical jargon for non-medical readers


The healthcare world sees new developments daily, resulting in huge amounts of published literature. To give you an idea — every day, 7% of Google searches are about health. That’s 70,000 health-related searches per minute!


These health searches can positively impact the health literacy rate if the information is plain and free of medical jargon.


If you are a healthcare provider or a health platform, this is your time to play your role in improving health literacy.


Here are five tips that you can follow to simplify medical jargon for non-medical audiences.


1. Focus on the target audience


Before communicating or writing, pinpoint who you're talking to. Are you addressing healthcare professionals, patients, or the general public? Each group has its language preferences and familiarity with medical terminology.


Tailoring your message to their level of understanding is the first step. Put yourself in their shoes and then communicate in a way that matches their understanding.



2. Stay simple


Don't assume everyone's a medical whiz. Swap the medical jargon with plain talk. Try to keep the overall discussion simple, not only the medical jargon. You can say "stop smoking" instead of "smoking cessation" and "kidneys" instead of "renal."


Moreover, here are some medical terminologies you can use for your non-medical audience


  • Bronchodilator- Drug that helps you breathe better

  • Contusion- Bruise

  • Cardiopulmonary Health- Heart and Lung Health

  • Dermatologist- Skin Doctor

  • Hypertension- High Blood Pressure


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3. Incorporate visuals


Health information doesn't have to be confined to words alone. You can incorporate visuals like video animations, brochures, infographics, and patient handouts with images.


Words may get overwhelming sometimes, but visuals can better engage and reinforce their learning and understanding of complex medical concepts. For example, an animation of the heart structure and its function can be better understood than written notes.


And you already know, "A picture is worth a thousand words."


4. Address the acronyms


Acronyms can turn simple words into confusing puzzles. Whenever an acronym pops up, like MRI or BMI, your readers will likely have to stop and search for its meaning. Isn't it an extra effort for them? This may make them lose concentration.


Cut down this effort for them and explain the acronyms in brackets or provide a reference list at the end. Here are some common acronyms used in the medical and healthcare world that might ring a bell:


  • MRI - Magnetic Resonance Imaging

  • BMI - Body Mass Index

  • COPD - Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

  • ICU- Intensive Care Unit

  • PTSD - Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder


5. Ask for feedback


Feel free to test your content. Share it with representatives from your target audience—friends, family, or even potential readers. Their feedback can provide valuable insights into what works and needs to be changed. Your goal is to maintain clarity. Let the real-world feedback guide you towards your goal.



It's a wrap!


In conclusion, simplifying medical jargon for non-medical audiences is crucial to address the significant challenge of low health literacy. Healthcare providers and platforms should focus on their target audience, tailoring messages to their level of understanding.


As health bloggers and people with medical knowledge, it is our responsibility to help improve health literacy, ultimately contributing to a more effective healthcare system and reducing costs.



 

Adeen Shahid, DPT is a freelance medical writer. Read more about her work on LinkedIn.




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