Like their brethren in property/casualty and life/health, workers’ compensation claims professionals write a lot. They write to physicians, lawyers, claimants,
employers and many others. Like so many others in the world of claims, many workers’ comp people mistakenly think that “professional” writing equals “formality” and, therefore, they spend their working lives trying to “impress” instead of “express.”
If, instead of tracking flu bugs, the Atlanta Center for Disease Control were on the lookout for workers’ comp “Institutionitis,” here are a few of the “fevers” they might detect.
Like so many others in insurance, workers’ comp professionals often believe that “professional” writing is simply another way of saying “writing that has lots of formal, pompous and stodgy phrases.” I think professionalism is shown by using plain English. In a single letter to a physician confirming a claimant’s medical exam, I saw
- The “above employer.” Name the employer in the body of the letter.
- Instead of “please allow this letter to confirm,” write “This letter confirms …”
- Instead of “enclosed please find, ” write “I’ve enclosed…”
- “The undersigned.” Use “me.”
- The rest of the usual suspects: “as per”, “pursuant to”, “in regards to”, “please be advised,” “should you have any questions…”and “aforementioned”.
- Hedging: “I understand that…”, “indicated”.
- Vagueness: Not “What do you do on a daily basis?” but “Describe every activity you engage in during a typical day (e.g., take a shower, shave, make breakfast, etc.)”
- Wordiness: “We are in the process of …”
Having reviewed denials of claims, letters to house and opposing attorneys, letters to reinsurance companies, claimants and employers, internal memos, and requests for medical opinions, I rarely find a document with fewer than eight writing problems or mistakes per page. Phrasing a thought well is always a challenge and is well worth the effort.
Among the issues I see is a very serious one: inappropriate tone. One workers’ comp professional wrote to a parent: “Your daughter’s scars are negligible and will lighten as she ages.” The word “negligible” is a slap in the face to a parent, literally adding insult to injury. Also, since the parent was non-Caucasian, the notion of a scar “lightening” was not greeted very well. Nor was the concept of the child’s scar improving “as she ages.”
Perhaps the writer should have written: Your daughter’s scars are minor and will fade in time.”
As you review your department’s or your own work, some of the smaller writing issues to check for include:
- Spell out dates: Not 1/2/17 but January 2, 2017.
- Indent the information within the RE line as well as the category itself.
- Avoid and/or
- Avoid Dear Sir or Madam
- Use “Sincerely” as a close, instead of “Sincerely yours.”
- Check spelling (e.g., “healed,” not “heeled”).
- Put commas after introductory clauses (“As you may know,”).
- Write “Claim Number” not, “Claim #”.
- Avoid the presumptuous: “Thank you in advance for your cooperation.”
They haven’t agreed to do anything yet. Thanking them in advance won’t
persuade them to do it.
If you are not happy with the look of your workers’ compensation letters, you may need to institute some training or create a department style guide. Like fevers, these problems are contagious and may spread throughout your department unless something is done to put the emphasis back on clear, concise, plain English.
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