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From slam poetry to plain language for health care
Date:7/8/2009

SEATTLEThe doctor's mouth opens, and "medicalese" pours forth: words like "pyrosis" and "myocardial infarction." The patient's eyes glaze over. If only the doctor said "heartburn" or "heart attack," the patient could learn what caused the chest pain.

This failure to communicate is all too familiar. In 2005, Jessica Ridpath noticed it happening when health care researchers asked people to consider taking part in studies.

"Informed consent means people understand what they're agreeing to," said Ridpath. "But most consent forms are too complex for the reading abilities of the people they're supposed to inform." A slam poet and language lover, Ridpath is the research communications coordinator at Group Health Center for Health Studies. She just published her first article in the July/August American Journal of Health Promotion.

Ridpath worried that unreadable consent forms were hindering informed decision makingand raising risks for participants and research institutions alike. So four years ago she created the Project to Review and Improve Study Materials, or PRISM. Her article describes how PRISM evolved. First it was a short-term internal training initiative to boost consent form readability. Since then, PRISM has expanded into an enduring suite of hands-on resources. It includes a customizable training workshop and an editing service. Its centerpiece is a Toolkit that illustrates strategies for communicating clearly in written materials for study participants, such as informed consent documents, study invitations, letters, and information sheets.

The Toolkit is based on plain languagea communication style centered on the audience's needs and abilities. Researchers can see how to use plain language in study materials through the Toolkit's many concrete examples, including an alternative word list. Here's a brief excerpt:

Instead of: Try this:
Abdomen: Belly
Abrasion: Scrape
Absorb: Soak up
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Contact: Rebecca Hughes
hughes.r@ghc.org
206-287-2055
Group Health Cooperative Center for Health Studies
Source:Eurekalert

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