Communicating Clearly

Communicating Clearly with Patients and Service Users

Patients and service users ask us to be clear when we give them information about their health. They also want us to show care and compassion when we talk and write to them.

When we explain things clearly and with care and compassion, people have more confidence and trust in us and are more likely to take our advice, and follow medical guidance.

They are happy to ask us questions about our advice so that they can take better care of their health.

Clear and compassionate communication makes for better outcomes and a better experience for the people in our care.

  • We introduce ourselves by saying: “Hello, my name is…”
  • We speak clearly and with empathy:“How can I help you?”
  • We put ourselves in our patients and service users’ shoes when talking to them: “Is there anything else you need to know?”
  • We use plain language to explain complex terms: “Let me explain...”
  • We listen to what they have to say and respond kindly: “I am here to help you understand everything.”
  • We give contact details for more information: “In case you want more information…”

We write so that those we care for can understand our letters and instructions.

  • We use clear language and everyday words.
  • We write it as we would say it, using plain language.
  • We avoid using jargon, abbreviations and acronyms.
  • We use a font that is easy to read, such as Helvetica or Arial.
  • We clearly explain the purpose of our letters and documents.
  • We ask non-medical staff to check that our letters and documents are easy to understand.
  • We use ‘I’, ‘we’ and ‘you’ to personalise our letters and documents.
  • We use short sentences and paragraphs.
  • We give our contact details so the reader can contact us for more information.

The HSE Communications Division has produced a short leaflet for your desktop when speaking and writing to patients and services users. We have also published a more comprehensive set of guidelines for those producing letters, leaflets, websites, images for patients and services users. The guidelines contain a health literacy checklist which allows you to see if your message is clear and if it can be understood and acted on.  

Posters are also available which encourage patients to feel free to ask for:

A health professional’s name (jpg)

An explanation of medical terms (jpg)

“Research has shown that there are fewer errors and better treatment outcomes when there is good communication between patients and their health-care providers, and when patients are fully informed and educated about their treatment and medication.” (World Health Organization: 2012)

“39% of Irish people ask that healthcare professionals use more understandable language and less medical jargon” (National Adult Literacy Agency: Ipsos MRBI survey, 2015)