Recognizing that they can improve customer satisfaction and save money at the same time, health insurers are rewriting documents, revising scripts, and overhauling web sites with the goal of simplifying the language so their members understand what is being said.

"People do not understand the language of health care," says Ingrid Lindberg, chief experience officer for CIGNA.

When CIGNA began looking at its own language, a member survey turned up some surprising results.

"We found out, for example, that many of those surveyed thought that, when we used the word 'provider,' we were talking about ourselves," says Lindberg. "They didn't think of 'provider' as a doctor."

Early last year, CIGNA launched its "Words We Use" initiative. Among other things, the initiative calls out 85 words that are banned from the organization's lexicon. Staff are encouraged to use easy-to-understand alternatives for these "bad" words. Here are some examples:

Bad Words Good Words
 Provider Healthcare professional 
Ancilliary provider/facility Dentist, doctor, nurse, pharmacist, hospital, lab, pharmacy, etc. 
Copay You pay 
Deductible Amount you pay before the plan starts to pay 
Abjudicate Process 
Submitted charges Amount billed 
On a monthly basis Monthly     

Source: CIGNA Corp. "Words We Use" Guidelines

CIGNA's internal research shows an immediate benefit from simplifying communications, says Lindberg. "We recently saw a more than 100 percent increase in our customers' understanding of benefits by simply changing how we talked."

"Miscommunication adds confusion, which adds cost," she says. "By making ourselves understood, we can eliminate a lot of the back-and-forth that follows when we speak a different language than our customers."

Publication Date: Thursday, November 05, 2009