Austin, TX – The Division of Workers’ Compensation recently reviewed form letters it sends to injured employees and decided to modify the correspondence using nationally recognized principles to increase usability. In other words, they made them easier to read.
A group of experts from across the agency looked at ways to meet legal requirements for the letters while also making them more readable and useful to injured employees. Eight letters and notices have been redone so far and will be used starting this month.
“Workers’ compensation is complex, and we want to do everything we can to help injured employees get the care and benefits they’re entitled to,” said Commissioner Ryan Brannan. “A clearly written letter can help the employee better understand the process.”
The project started by looking at an inventory of hundreds of letters sent to injured employees, said the division’s Melody May. The letters that are used most frequently were the first to be reviewed and improved.
“We stripped the letters down and started to rebuild them with input from the subject matter experts,” May said.
The wording, format, and organization of the new letters was guided by plain language writing techniques to make them easier to understand. TDI’s Fawn Escalante, who helped with the project, said the revised letters use shorter words and sentences, have clear headings, and avoid jargon.
One of the notices revamped by the group is the Request for Required Medical Examination letter. The previous letter was written at a college reading level. After the revision, the letter now is at a seventh grade level. New headings make it easy for someone skimming the letter to see what action they need to take (get an exam), the name of the doctor, and how to change the appointment time if necessary.
“We know people often skim letters, and we wanted to make it easy for the reader to get the information they need quickly,” Escalante said.
May said the work group had three requirements for its finished letters: The content had to be current, the format had to be compatible with records processing, and the wording had to meet legal requirements. The work group met the third condition by including legal terms on the letters in parentheses next to the more common wording.
The division also revised notices that workers’ compensation carriers send to injured employees and is reviewing comments received on those changes. It expects improved versions of those letters to be approved this summer.