Is Clinical Language Confusing Your Patients?

January 31, 2018

Between your years of study to become a dentist and your years of practice, you are well-versed in the language of dentistry and medicine. Because of this fluency, however, it’s difficult sometimes to recognize which words might cause confusion or misunderstanding for your patients.

This isn’t a failing on your part; it’s simply a fact of life.

Additionally, it can be hard to recognize when your patient and you don’t share an understanding. Sometimes a patient believes that they understand what you are saying, and sometimes they are too proud (or embarrassed) to admit that they don’t.

A Study Examines Language

A recent study published in the British Dental Journal examined how well patients understood a number of common terms, including blister, lesion, malignant, and metastasis.

The researchers found that many terms, such as benign, tumor, and metastasis, were misunderstood by patients. Some patients flat out stated that they didn’t know what the words meant. Others misunderstood or mistook the word for another (for example, mistaking metastasis for mastitis or tumor for thrombosis).

The study also examined factors that related to patients’ levels of understanding. Patients who did not have advanced degrees and those for whom English is not their first language were less likely to understand these terms.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, only 12% of Americans have a level of health literacy that can be described as “proficient.” Unfortunately, it can be difficult to know where your patients fall, so it’s best to never to assume that a patient has a high level of understanding.

Meeting Your Patients Where They Are

It’s easier to check a patient’s level of understanding when you are face to face in your practice. For example, you probably ask patients to repeat your comments and instructions back to you to confirm that you are both on the same wavelength.

Printed and online materials – such as your website – pose a greater challenge since it’s impossible to assess your reader’s level of understanding. If they don’t understand the language on your website, you simply won’t hear from them.

When reviewing clients’ previous websites, one of the most common issues we find is that they are using language that is far too clinical for most patients to understand. Procedures are often described in great detail, leading to confusion and fear.

When you opt for custom copywriting for your website, our skilled writers create content that your patients will easily understand in order to avoid confusion or misunderstandings.

This paints a picture of you as a compassionate provider who communicates well and cares about your patients and their well-being. This also begins the process of building trust so that people who visit your website will feel more confident about calling you to schedule an appointment.

Understanding Your Potential Patients

As the study referenced above notes, details such as education level and English-speaking proficiency play a significant role in understanding. As we learn more about your practice to better represent you in your website, we also ask questions of you and conduct our own research to learn more about the population in your area.

For example, you may practice in a location where the populace is more likely to speak English as a second language. Alternatively, you may practice in an area where your patient population is more likely to work in the medical field.

However, even if your office is surrounded by university campuses and hospitals, not all of your patients will have high levels of health literacy, and it’s important to communicate with these people as well.

What Can You Do?

  • Look over your website. Read through the content. Do any clinical terms jump out at you? Make sure to define these terms in the text using plain language.
  • Ask someone who isn’t in the medical or dental field to look at your site. Do they spot any terms that seem like they could be confusing?
  • Reach out to us. We’re happy to take a look at your website and make recommendations. We offer custom copywriting with writers who have years of experience writing patient-friendly dental content.

Understanding builds trust. We know you care about your patients. Make sure that the language you use isn’t unintentionally driving potential patients away.