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Problems in successfully completing healthcare forms

Difficulty in completing a form could reflect a lack of ability in the person that developed the form in designing forms.
Someone signing a document
© IMPACCT consortium

In the previous steps you have seen examples of healthcare forms and what makes these easy or difficult to use. Easy to understand forms usually don’t contain a lot of text, use images where appropriate and make use of easy language by avoiding long sentences and jargon. Difficult to use forms, on the other hand, are characterised by a lot of text, long sentences, unclear phrases and/or the use of jargon.

The problem in successfully completing the form for anyone can be seen from two perspectives:

1) The person’s abilities and skills in reading and understanding it


2) The quality and ease of reading of the form, which depends on multiple factors including the complexity of the language used, the format, the order of the presentation of questions and the quality of the printing.

This mirrors the conceptualisation of health literacy as emerging from the interaction between a persons’ skills and abilities with the demands and complexities of the healthcare environment, we considered in Week 1.

If a form is presented poorly, using jargon, badly written and with the order of questions muddled then it is difficult for everyone to complete.

Hence, difficulty in completing a form does not necessarily reflect a lack of ability of the person trying to complete it. It could reflect a lack of ability in the person that developed the form in being able to design one.

This links to approaches to health literacy. Improving the form so that it is easy to use for everyone is an example of a Universal Precautions approach, which we will discuss later this week. It is also about using plain language which we will deal with in the next section.

So how could you make a form more easy to use for everyone?

Forms are written materials and a lot of the tips on writing and developing accessible written materials for health are transferable to forms. A few examples:

  • The size and type of the font used makes a difference, for example, use size 11 or 12 and a sans serif font like Ariel as these are easier to read.
  • Use plain language and no jargon or abbreviations.
  • Only collect information that you need.
  • If the form is long with a lot of questions and you need the information, consider going through them with people, rather than asking them to complete the form.

One of the most useful things to do is to develop and design the form with the type of people that will be asked to fill it in, so you can tailor it to their needs while getting the information you want.

If you are interested in learning more about comprehensibility of health information, we suggest the following articles:

© IMPACCT consortium
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Working with Patients with Limited Health Literacy

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