Today’s health plans must ensure clear language is used across all audiences and all types of communications, from verbal exchanges with colleagues to written outreach to plan members. The use of easy-to-understand language is especially important as it pertains to the pharmaceutical industry. Why? With an ever-increasing alphabet soup of acronyms and jargon, the “lingo” of the pharmaceutical industry can confuse not only clinicians but also colleagues within an organization, as well as plan members.
Consider the patient who receives the instruction to take a medication “hs.”—or at bedtime. While the physician and even retail pharmacist may have explained what that means, patients forget or get confused. Another example is the term BID—or twice a day. Without an understanding of Latin, it’s hard to determine what those initials mean. And if a patient calls the health plan with a question, and the member services representative isn’t sure, that can present problems and frustrations for all. Clearly taking just a few seconds to provide clear definitions can avoid misunderstanding without impacting efficiency.
To be sure, acronyms and abbreviations have their place as a shorthand to help quickly share information. Unfortunately, if we’re not all on the same page in terms of what words mean, it can also lead to confusion and misunderstanding.
And that’s a shame because health plans have considerable information to communicate: From pharmacists’ guidance about how call centers should communicate with members, to ensuring that those responding to Requests for Proposals (RFPs) use the right terminology, to educating marketing and sales personnel on how to best communicate with current and prospective customers’ decision-makers.
A recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association highlights the need for precision in how we communicate to avoid the misunderstanding of words in the context that they are being used. The takeaway for all in the healthcare industry is that in thinking about things we say, it’s not always what we think has been said when talking about health. It’s about what our colleagues, as well as patients, understand.
The issue of better communication is especially important for health plans in their communications with members, many of whom may have varying understanding of not just clinical terminology, but also their pharmacy benefit and coverage.
It’s estimated that nine in 10 adults lack the skills needed to “manage their health and prevent disease.” For most people this is not due to a lack of intellect, but rather a lack of familiarity with common terminology. This means that those who interface with members—from physicians to customer service representatives—must use the clearest form of language over acronyms and jargon whenever possible.
Take the term Explanation of Benefit (EOB) for example. As a patient, I think this document title means I’m getting an explanation of what my benefits are—not what happened to my claim or how much I need to pay. This misunderstanding could lead to frustrated members who take their concerns to their benefits department. The result: an unhappy member and an unhappy benefits department, which ultimately impacts the MCO.