patient literacyAi! laurië lantar lassi súrinen.

Do you know what these words mean? I’m assuming “no” — and that understanding them would require a translator.

Now, imagine you’re a patient who has an 8th-grade reading level or lower. Your doctor gives you a brochure that contains the following information about pain management:

We will inform you at your initial evaluation that relief of pain is an important part of your care. Our health care providers will respond to reports of pain in a timely manner and will ask as part of their regular assessment about the presence, quality and intensity of pain, and use your self-report as the primary indicator of pain. Health care professionals will work with you to establish a goal for pain relief and implement a plan to achieve said goal.


I didn’t make up that paragraph. It’s real content in a real brochure and it reads at grade 13 — so, five grades above a typical patient’s reading level.

For many patients, that entire paragraph might as well say, “Ai! laurië lantar lassi súrinen.”

A slight exaggeration? Sure. But as the saying goes, the struggle is real. For every word like care, there are words like diligence and consideration. And there’s a patient who doesn’t feel cared for because he doesn’t know how he’s being cared for — he doesn’t understand the words explaining his treatment.

> Read more: Health insurers, step away from the jargon

Health literacy makes healthcare less painful for all

Here’s the same message from the brochure. Only now it’s written with the patient’s understanding in mind.

At your first visit with us, we’ll talk about how to manage your pain. After all, it’s an important part of your care. Our healthcare team will work with you to set a goal to reach the best possible level of pain relief and then come up with a plan to meet that goal. While we’re caring for you, we’ll ask you often if you’re feeling pain and how strong it is. What you tell us will help us use the plan in the best way to manage your pain. Then you can expect us to respond quickly.

This paragraph reads below grade 6. The patient feels cared for and less anxious because the provider helps him understand “how” his pain will be managed. That cared-for feeling is one of the biggest and best outcomes of health literacy.

Found in translation — make care easy to understand

Back to the first sentence. Unless you’re a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings series, you may not have known that those words are from the elvish language invented by J. R. R. Tolkien. They roughly translate to:

Ah! Leaves fall like gold in the wind.

Lovely words, aren’t they? It would’ve been a shame to miss out on their meaning.

Experts in plain language

The WriterGirl team understands the language of healthcare and and knows how to translate it into content that speaks to your specific audience, so you can be a powerful resource for your patients. Drop us a line if you want to learn more.