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The importance of language in maternity services

02 May 2019
Volume 27 · Issue 5


An essential element of communication in maternity services is the use of language. This article will examine three key themes in the use of language: medical jargon, emotive language and those for whom English is not a first language. Medical jargon detracts from patient autonomy, and emotive language can influence women's mindset and experience both positively and negatively. When English is not an individual's first language, women feel defenceless and lack understanding. This can be mitigated by the use of an interpreter; however, their misuse, or a health professional's inexperience in using them, can limit their effectiveness.

Communication is imperative for high-quality, safe healthcare (Levinson et al, 2010; Vermeir et al, 2015; Foronda et al, 2016). Communication between patients, health professionals and local communities has been central to healthcare improvement strategies such as the 6Cs (Department of Health, 2012), Better Births (National Maternity Review, 2016) and the Five Year Forward View (NHS England et al, 2014). Furthermore, poor communication has been linked to compromised patient safety, negative patient experiences and inefficient physician worktime (Vermeir et al, 2015) and in maternity services, has been shown to make women in labour feel less in control and more negative about their experiences (World Health Organization (WHO), 2016; National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2017). To improve and advance communication, NHS England created an accessible information and communication policy (NHS England Patient and Public Participation and Insight Group, 2016) that outlines the importance of accessible, inclusive information and communication for all, supporting the NHS Constitution's key principle that the patient will be at the heart of everything that it does (Department of Health, 2015). A central method of communication is the use of language. Language is both used and experienced by all health professionals and those in their care, and so the use of medical jargon, positively or negatively skewed phrasing and for those for whom English is not a first language should all be considered. This article will explore each of these elements of language within maternity services and their context within patient safety and experience.

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