The plain language impact on your call center staff
And we also know that the vocabulary used within healthcare communications is complex. And concepts are complicated. So with such a “product”, you could assume that language will be hard to understand. “That’s a sell-out” Jack says. He argues that companies need to take the time to simplify their communications. And when members understand these communications, they pick up the phone less often. And pressure on the call center can ease up to 30%, according to Jack. It’s better for business, better for call center staff, and better for members.
And it’s also the law. The Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires that federal agencies use clear government communication that the public can understand. In 2013, the Government made it an official requirement that the health industry uses plain language. The National Institutes for Health also supports this. They say that people need easily understandable health information regardless of age, background or reading level. So that means that healthcare providers and insurers need to find alternatives for:
- Complex words
- Medical jargon
The solutions are out there
And there are many resources available to help those creating healthcare communications. The PlainLanguage.gov website has pulled together a list of alternatives for complex words. For example:
“The patient is required to notify us” becomes “The patient needs to tell us.”
The second sentence uses active language, which is easier for our brains to process, as well as simpler vocabulary. It eases the member’s cognitive load.
The PlainLanguage.gov Thesaurus from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is another great resource. It offers plain language equivalents to medical terms and phrases. Examples include:
Administer – Give
Deficient – Lacking
Sanitary – Clean
Seasonal Influenza – Common Flu
Yet despite the availability of these tools, it’s clear that there’s still a problem. It sounds so simple – use plain language, and take time to make your communications easy to understand.
So what’s going wrong?
Jack told us that this all stems from an internal focus
on speed rather than productivity. It often leads to people creating communications who have no training in it. He gave us a real-life example that he’s seen in action – claims letters. They are mostly written, not by marketing or service teams, but by the claims team. People who have no technical writing skills whatsoever. Jack explains:
“It’s not their fault, they’re asked to put together a letter without proper background. You end up with poorly constructed letters that are full of grammar, punctuation, formatting and clarity issues.”
And the result is a member picking up a letter from her mailbox, and becoming immediately confused. She calls her provider, adding to the stress and strain on call center operations and staff.
Jack explained that there’s a lack of empathy from senior managers. They don’t try to put themselves in the shoes of their members. Even as someone who works in the industry, Jack is often left confused by the communications from his healthcare insurer. So consider the impact on a senior person, or someone who doesn’t speak English as their native language.
“There’s still a lack of understanding in terms of how the other side views healthcare. Who their audience is, and their level of understanding. It’s not that people aren’t smart, it’s that they’re not living healthcare operations every day of their lives.”
The opportunity is there for the taking
Our research found that 86.6% of insurers are not communicating effectively with their target audience. That’s a pretty poor state of affairs. But the good news is, there’s a big opportunity for the healthcare industry to get this right. According to Jack:
“There’s an awesome opportunity to make an impact in this area. It hasn’t been paid a lot of attention to. The industry would value a focus on clarification of information. The VT Insights Platform would be a massive help – it’s long overdue.”
Plain language is, perhaps, an unlikely hero. But Jack argues it is key to building trust with members. When members feel confident in their provider, they are less likely to leave. They are also more likely to drive new member acquisition through word of mouth. And, most importantly, members who feel reassured about their service are also less likely to call and flood the call center. The result is an opportunity for call centers to focus on those high touch calls from customers who really need to talk to someone. And for call center operations training to pivot, and focus on delivering exceptional service to customers in need.