Author: Anne Hansen, MD, MPH

The patient’s bedside is no place for the passive voice

boy holding hands over his ears passive voice medical communications
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Read a medical journal, guideline or progress note and most often you will find yourself reading sentences in the passive voice. “The infant is placed in the lateral decubitus position.” “The catheter should be removed as soon as it is no longer necessary.” “The treatment options were explained to the patient.” These snippets are typical examples of how the medical community has been taught to write, purportedly serving to protect anonymity and set an impassive, professional tone.

While this stylistic standard may have its role in formal medical writing, it introduces a host of concerns at the bedside. Compared to the active voice, the passive voice tends to be less interesting, less forceful and most importantly for patient safety and quality of care, less clear. …Read More

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