Monday, March 21, 2005

Professional Speak … Guaranteed Protection

When I was younger and less confident at work in healthcare, I played the game too. I too nodded approvingly at meetings when we discussed complex issues in our own language. I probably even appeared knowledgeable.

As years have passed I came to realise that it is in fact a game.

I now try hard to keep things simple.

This is not because I want to score points over colleagues or appear non conformist. It is a straightforward realisation on my part that protectionism is one of the main reasons we use such language in work settings.

I guess there is, among like-minded professionals in an organisation as complex as the health care setting, an acceptable level of “in-house” language. I happen to believe this is also an effective method of communicating among peers.

Where I part company with professional speak is when the audience includes those not in the “inner circle” – in the case of health care I mean patients and ther family carers.

One thing that has become apparent to me is that when we engage in meetings with patients and family carers the language protectionism needs to be exorcised if we are to have real and meaningful dialogue.

I am not suggesting patients and carers are unable to comprehend complex language – that assumption would be folly and indeed insulting to the patients and carers we serve.

Patients and family carers have enough to contend with.

By virtue of entering the health care sector – the patient is in need of support, advice and guidance. There is a health problem. That is often a stress provoking position. Support and care through that stressful period of life means it will hopefully pass. I am usually very re-assured in my discussions with patients and carers that health care professionals are very good at explaining things in language that is understood by the patient or carer. There is also the opportunity for the patient or carer to check the meaning in a one to one consultation.

So … you might say … what is the problem?

Something else seems to happen in meetings of managers with patients and carers.

This is a totally different setting to the one to one consultations. It can – at worst – become a stage or arena for the manager to show their prowess of mastering a language that leaves the patients and carers confused, as yet another acronym or buzz word or phrase emerges from the lips of the well meaning manager. This is not intended to be either an insult to my colleagues in management –I was proud to be one of their number - or a patronising statement about the intellectual ability of patients and carers

It is simply my contention that “in-house” language should remain in house.

The moment we engage in dialogue with patients and carers outside the “warmth” of our own health care environment, the language should change to what most people would call normal.

It is, perhaps, a sweeping generalisation, and one that I am confident will provoke challenge from readers, but I suspect that most patients and carers would rather hear plain language – similar to that used in everyday conversation.

This is not rocket science and I accept I am making a complex issue very simple. That is the whole point. I am simply asking for common sense and reality about the way we talk to our customers.

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