By Kimberly Reyes (@CommDuCoeur)
Even if you are the most graphic of all designers, even if you are the most chemical of all researchers, you write at work. You write reports, you write PowerPoint slides, you write emails, you write Post-It notes. You write staff reviews. You write, and you tell the world about yourself every time you do it.
But is what you write illuminating and informative – or is it more likely to require a Rosetta Stone, a dictionary, and a mind reader?
Some people seem to think that the more words they use, the smarter they look. In our experience, these people are either six months out of college and used to padding word counts – or theyre senior executives nobody has the nerve to edit anymore. But in either case, it doesnt work. When you talk to sound smart, you end up proving the opposite. When you talk to make yourself understood as quickly and easily as possible – thats when youre getting somewhere.
As a creative writer myself, the same problem pops up often in peer review groups: some people write for themselves, not their audiences. Across all industries, these people are usually incredibly smart, and work on very specific and complicated projects. These people, due to their brains and projects, are often expected to explain what theyve done and why it matters. And thats where they shoot themselves in the foot, because their writing doesnt serve their valuable, interesting work.
But particularly in medicine, making yourself understood does more than help your career – it saves lives.
A new federal program is working to improve that – both improving the literacy of the public, and the communication abilities of healthcare professionals. The Health Literacy Action Plan hopes to raise healthcare standards, lower costs and inform everyone.
Why does it matter so much? Well, as chair of the department of health policy of George Washington University Medical Center, Sara Rosenbaum is quoted as saying in the above-linked Wall Street Journal article, “People who have only limited ability to understand their choices in health care are more likely to have serious health problems and more likely to have their treatment delayed, which leads to higher costs.
Clarity is, in healthcare, very literally a matter of life and death.
However, in an interesting new development, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundations OpenNotes project is experimenting with giving 25,000 patients direct access to their physicians notes about their visits. Is this the next logical step toward more clear patient-professional communication? It may be, but it will certainly require a shift in thinking. Many physicians think of their notes as proprietary, private, and easily misunderstood by less specialized readers – even the subjects discussed in the notes themselves.
Consider how you can improve the clarity of your communications with your colleagues, with your clients, with your business prospects.
Moreover, consider how a project like the OpenNotes project would work in your own business. What parts of your business do you keep behind the scenes? Why? What would happen if you opened them up?