Saturday, February 10, 2007

Doctor patient relationships, plain language, Read This Blog with Great Care: See If You Can Spot The Trick

Doctors should be more innovative with language. If we would talk more clearly to patients, using the right words, patients would know better what to expect, what to do, and might even hue to what we say.

The folks at Emmi Solutions, Inc, who produce interactive online videos to teach patients, say it all boils down to plain talk and to:

• Logical organization
• Jargon-free word choice
• Active voice
• Short sentences
• Common, everyday examples

One problem with doctors, say critics, is that we use too much jargon when we talk to patients. That is one reason why patients do not know what doctors are saying. I say this does not need to be so. Doctors can use plain words too, as I shall show here.

Read this blog with great care. For it shows one of the tricks of those who write and talk well. To write and talk well is no small trick. It takes skill, thought, and choice. There are no short cuts – no high roads. You have to spend time at it, and you must choose the right words. Still a trick or two helps.

As you read these words, see if you can spot the trick, which goes on right in front of your nose right now.

The trick works, and it works well. It works best for those with clear minds, but not so well for those who are not so sure what they want to write or say. It works, too, for you who read what we who use this trick write.

Look back at what you have read. Have you known each word so far? And have you got a good grasp of the flow of thoughts?

Oh, I know I have not told you what the “trick” is, but that will come. While I have you on the hook, I just want to make sure you know what each word means, and that you have the gist of all that passes in right in front of your eyes.

Now, if you are still with me, I shall go on.

The trick also serves those who write tales, as well as those who deal in facts. There are those who say the trick will not work in the field of health care. I do not think they are right. If I can do this trick, as I am now, you can too. But we can both learn from those who tell tales, as this tale shows.

Life lays down strange paths which the feet of man must tread in the dark.

When Baer told me this tale, I felt full of awe and tears. Baer does not lie. He is a good man, and his eyes are full of strong truth.

I know Baer. He has the heart of a saint – fresh and pure as a deep well, in spite of all the hard, sad years of his life.

We met on the stairs of Time: I was on my way up: he was on the way down. I was young; he was old, and poor – so poor that he did not know when luck would send him a meal and a bed.

His coat was thin; wind and rain bit right through it. Yet he could hold his head high and face life with a fine calm.

It is sad when a man is too weak to work, too strong to die, and too proud to beg, sad, yet great. Bear was a great man. This is what he told me:

It has been the will of Fate – or what you like – that all I made they had to break. All that I got, I lost. Well, let it be like that.

All is gone – all but what was mine, as a gift, the gift to me, of God.

What I have not lost is best of all. That I can’t lose. I mean my soul. If a man keeps his soul, that is what he can keep in the end, so that in the end that man has won, not lost.

(That was how Baer spoke – in clear, short words.)

Well, the last sentence gives up the jig. What’s my trick? This: I set out to show I can write clear prose using words of one syllable. As Winston Churchill, said, “Short words are best and the old words when short are best of all.”

The 558 word italicized passage above is made up entirely of words on one syllable.

To throw you off the scent, so you would not spot the trick, in the opening four paragraphs introducing the italicized passage, I used 30 words of more than one syllable. In this entire essay, I have only used 10 words – innovative, video, organization, everyday, example, syllable, italicized, paragraph, introducing, clarity - with three syllables or more. Of 873 words, 863, or 99 percent, had one or two syllables.

I trust I have shown you the punch and pith of small words. Short words have grace, power, and clarity.

To sum up, short words are best. Think of that when you seek to engage or teach patients.

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