Drop the jargon

Simplifying your language will help patients better understand what you are trying to say

Six out of 10 Australians have low health literacy.

How often do you drop complex terms – learned from your time studying and working in pharmacy – while speaking with patients?

The “Drop the Jargon” campaign, which ran this week, encourages health professionals to avoid using jargon, technical terms or acronyms with patients.

“Many Australians have trouble understanding and using information provided by organisations. They also have trouble navigating complicated systems like healthcare services,” says the campaign.

Better health understanding comes from “just clear plain communication”.

Five tips for dropping the jargon include:

  1. Swap jargon for plain language.
    For example: Swap ‘facilitate’ for ‘help’. Here’s a useful resource to help.
  1. Use the active voice, identifying who is doing the action.
    For example: Change ‘The prescription can be picked up by you at the pharmacy’ to ‘You can pick up the prescription at the pharmacy’.
  1. Use ‘you’ and ‘we’ to talk directly to the person you’re speaking to.
    The person is ‘you’. The health service or government agency is ‘we’. This will help engage your audiences.
  1. Keep your sentences short.
  1. Avoid clichés.
    For example: ‘give me a hand’.
  1. Explain any jargon you need to use.
    If there is no plain language alternative, use jargon but explain the term the first time you use it.
  1. Avoid abbreviations and acronyms.
    And if you do use them, explain what they are and spell them out.

See more suggestions here and view the Health Literacy Toolkit.

The Drop the Jargon website also includes a list of jargon terms that participants hate the most: ironically, the term “health literacy” was added to the list.

“Its what we want everyone to have it – but most of us don’t know what it actually means,” said the participant.

Other health-related bugbears cited by participants include:

Are you tolerating food and fluids?

“What does ‘tolerating’ mean? Just managing to keep down the minimum? Eating everything in sight? Or somewhere in between?”

Labelling person with their diagnosis      

“Because it’s insulting to narrow some-one to one part of their life”

Health outcome/s

“Good, bad or otherwise, they are all outcomes. Be specific!”

Patient acronyms for health conditions (e.g., PWA for Person with Aphasia)  

“Reducing people to letters on the basis of their health condition is dehumanising.”

Doctors ‘initiating medicines in patients’               

“Because the patient is completely disempowered and erased. Doctors prescribe for patients, not in them.”

Social Determinants of Health   

“WT* does it mean? Issues that can affect a person’s long-term health outcomes.”


Sounds like the person is buying or eating something. Makes them less human


Labels a person for their condition. There is a lot more about a person with diabetes than their diabetes!


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  1. Yes-all good advice! It’s essential to keep it simple and to the point when counselling and advising patients about medicines! I certainly learnt a lot in converting therapeutic and medical jargon to plain English with respect to various medical conditions and describing how medications work, in preparing my 2013 Plain English Guide “Taking Medicines in Pregnancy-What’s Safe and What’s Not, What the Experts Say”!-(still around as iBook and eBook etc!.)

  2. Ron Batagol

    While we’re at it, a great article on “16 weasel words” used in business jargon as per link below- most will be quite familiar with these-BUT also one current word I’ve noticed that now even appears in some official documents these days- i.e. incorrect use of the word “around” when the correct word should be “about” – it’s “about” an issue, not skating “around” the issue!! Link to the 126 weasel words is:http://www.couriermail.com.au/business/work/business-jargon-words-we-never-ever-want-to-hear-again/news-story/b0569339c763c1c0318d618d0ee190fb

  3. Paige

    Do yourself a favor, don’t try and act like you understand the super rare condition the patient has. Ask them.

    Anderson-phlangic-randitis is probably just another fake condition like sciatica or fibromyalgia

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