X-rated study on confusing medical terms: Plain English Campaign prescribes cure

Complex medical jargon and unclear diagnoses could put lives at risk, according to new research.

A study has found that nearly half of working-age people cannot understand or use everyday health information.

Those with poor reading skills and the biggest health problems are thought to be most at risk.

One case quoted in the study concerns an elderly man who needed an x-ray. Unable to find a sign to help him, and not understanding that the sign ‘Radiology’ pointed to the x-ray department, he gave up and decided to go home.

The study, funded by drugs firm MSD, pointed to other areas such as medicine label instructions as possible areas of confusion and misunderstanding.

‘Doctors and the wider NHS must accept the findings of this report – and act on them,’ said Plain English Campaign founder Chrissie Maher.

‘If not, we could soon find out that someone has died as a result of misunderstanding instructions or labels. This is a key area where plain English can be a crucial help. We call for immediate action to simplify and clarify the language, which is meant to help patients but in many cases hinders.’

‘After all, this really could be a matter of life and death at any time.’

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