Thought Leadership

Why health jargon is bad for you

Robert Ede and Michael Cousins

MHP is publishing results of research today which reveal a worrying degree of ignorance about how jargon language commonly used in the health sector leaves many MPs baffled. The research – conducted with YouGov – was launched at Conservative Party conference and has already generated a significant amount of media coverage.

Every organisation wants to communicate with impact.  And within an increasingly congested and noisy health system, this task is harder than ever.  From innovative approaches, to integrated care, patient-centric care and patient pathways, our world is full of terminology that has become second nature in every press release, parliamentary briefing, and think tank report.  But is this really helping us to communicate clearly, or are we risking hiding our meaning behind overly complex concepts?  

MHP Communications has set out to test this thesis.  Working in partnership with YouGov, we have polled more than 108 MPs from across the House of Commons to understand the level of understanding of healthcare terminology.

Our results set the scale of the problem.  Confusion over terminology is eroding our politicians’ confidence in scrutinising the NHS, with many of the most used-terms in healthcare policy not being understood by a key audience.

Solving this challenge will not be straightforward, but our report points to how we might find a route to making the complex simple, and in doing so make perfect sense of health.

Kate Pogson, MHP Head of Health Communications

The report has been launched at Conservative Party Conference, at a private roundtable attended by clients and close contacts.  Commenting on the research, Paul Burstow, Former Health Minister, current MHP adviser and Chair of Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust said:

“Language can both illuminate and obscure.  These poll findings point to a worrying communications gap with MPs feeling bamboozled by NHS speak.  The NHS at all levels must adopt a plain English approach, so that MPs, and the public they represent, better understand the challenges and the choice.”

If our MPs don't easily understand the healthcare terms used then it's no surprise that the public don’t either

Janetta Murrie, spokesperson for the Plain English Campaign said:

“This research is just what’s needed.  It’s time for those writing about healthcare to realise that others don’t understand the very specialised language used.  Many parts of the NHS are adopting a plain English approach and this needs to extend further.

“This research puts the evidence right in front of our eyes.  If our MPs don’t easily understand the healthcare terms used then it’s no surprise that the public don’t either.”

A full copy of the report is available below. If you require additional information about MHP and the services we provide please get in touch

Making Perfect Sense of Health