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NHS website will simplify words to avoid confusion with patients

The NHS website will use simplified words after it was revealed that four in 10 adults struggle to understand medical information.

Several words will be replaced on NHS web pages after a survey conducted by the NHS website’s standards team showed people were more likely to respond well to simple language.

An NHS Digital blog from last month revealed four in 10 adults struggle to understand medical information written for the public and have low ‘health literacy’.

The survey asked 10,000 people to comment on how easy it was to understand words used on the NHS Choices website depending on each participant’s level of literacy.

The results showed the majority of those surveyed – from all levels of literacy – preferred ‘pee’ instead of urine, and ‘poo’ instead of ‘stools’ or ’bowels.’ 

The words ‘wee’ and ‘stool’ were excluded given the varying meanings across the country. 

The results said: ‘People who use voice technologies sometimes confuse it with “we” – or “wee”, meaning tiny. And some only know a “stool” as something to sit on.’

Content designer for NHS.UK’s standards team, Sara Wilcox, said in an NHS Digital blog: ‘We think it’s important to use the language that’s most widely understood – by people of different ages and literacy levels.

She continued: ‘We know some people think we shouldn’t use words like “pee” and “poo”, but we haven’t seen anyone have problems knowing what we mean. Most importantly, if someone with poor literacy understands “blood in your poo”, it might just save their life.’

Words that are changing on the NHS website include:

  • ‘Stools/faeces’ to ‘poo’
  • ‘Urine’ to ‘pee’
  • ‘Oral’ will change to ‘mouth’
  • ‘Nausea’ will change to ‘feeling sick’
  • ‘Vomiting’ will change to ‘being sick’
  • ‘Fever’ will change to ‘high temperature’
  • ‘Haemorrhage’ will change to ‘very heavy bleed’