Writing for Patients

Writing medical content for patients and the general public (non-specialist reader)

The aim here is to relay information to an audience with little to no background knowledge in medicine. Most of the time these people are patients and directly affected by the content that they are trying to understand. It is therefore essential to use a language that suits the average person and to provide analogies which can help to simplify some complex concepts.

Most authors, on the other hand, live in the realms of science and breath the air of academia. It is a known fact that these authors tend to overestimate the basic knowledge of their audience. They grant the reader more background knowledge that he/she has. There is a danger that they use foreign words, specialist terms and convoluted sentences that become too complicated for the average person; even the most motivated reader will eventually lose interest.
The other extreme is less frequent but does happen when the text is simplified to the degree that the content turns longwinded and possibly patronising, again the reader loses interest.

7 points to consider when writing content aimed at patients

1) Style
write in a tone and style that is easy to understand. Use short sentences and keep jargon to a minimum.

2) Avoid Jargon
if you feel that introducing a specialist term might benefit the flow of the text, mention the lay term first followed by the specialist / medical name.

3) People first
use people-first language when talking of patients with an illness. For instance use “person with schizophrenia” instead of “schizophrenic”.

4) Active language
for disabled people use words that respect them as active individuals, avoid passive language.

5) Privacy and Confidentiality
Respect the privacy and confidentiality when using patient information – follow the guidelines of good medical practice even if you’re not a doctor.

6) Evidence-based
When giving advice, try to use an evidence-based approach. It provides your text credibility and makes you more trustworthy.

7) Respect
Be aware of the patients’ vulnerability and do not exploit their search for hope.

Finding the right language:

The art of writing for patients is to use a clear and accessible style that informs and educates the reader engagingly and respectfully. When using jargon, explain the jargon first; this will enlighten the audience and engage them. They gladly finish your article and will want more.