Communicating Compliance Terms in Plain English…

communicate compliance terms in plain english

If you have ever been new to a particular field of the workforce, such as healthcare compliance, you know all too well that the language used by coworkers can sound foreign, like gibberish, or “alphabet soup.”  As we continue to work in the field though, we too, start speaking the language.  However, while that may be ok for conversing in the compliance department, it still be confusing if we are trying to communicate with, or to educate, other functional areas of the healthcare organization.  Without knowing the terminology, the message we are trying to convey is unlikely to be understood when received.

Alphabet Soup

Take a look at an example of terminology just starting with the letter “A” from the Office of the Inspector General Work Plan (reference below):

  • ADAP AIDS Drug Assistance Program (note this one includes an abbreviation in the definition);
  • AI/AN American Indians and Alaska Natives (I, for one, was unfamiliar with this abbreviation);
  • AIDS acquired immunodeficiency syndrome;
  • ALF assisted living facility;
  • ALJ administrative law judge;
  • AMD age‐related macular degeneration (while I have heard of macular degeneration, I did not know this was a standard abbreviation);
  • AMP average manufacturer price;
  • ASC ambulatory surgical center;
  • ASP average sales price; and
  • AWP average wholesale price.

Say I am talking to another seasoned compliance professional in front of a new employee.  Using the above “A” acronyms only, the conversation may sound something like this,

“Based on the billing audit, I see we are not receiving contracted AWP reimbursement under our AI/AN contract for ALF patients with AMD.”

As you can imagine, a new employee might be confused by the acronyms and terms communicated instead of using common business English.  Sometimes just saying the entire word instead of the abbreviation is a good place to start, so instead of saying AWP say average wholesale price.

Repetitive Communication

In order to improve communication between seasoned compliance professionals and other members of the organization, it is important to use repetitive teaching strategies.  In addition to saying the entire compliance term and the abbreviation, be repetitive and write out the compliance term in addition to the abbreviation in written communications.  That way staff become more familiar with compliance terminology and it becomes a part of their daily vocabulary.

Knowledge in Practice

When it comes to any industry, including healthcare, it is easy to throw around acronyms and jargon that is familiar and efficient.  However, it is important to be aware of who you are talking to, and therefore make sure they clearly understand whatever it is you are communicating.  Translate and reword industry terminology in emails, policies and teaching materials where necessary in order to improve communication and understanding.  Better compliance will ultimately be the result.


  1. Regularly evaluate training and orientation materials to ensure industry specific terminology is defined and understandable.
  2. Utilize the youCompli system as a centralized hub for new and existing compliance processes and utilize the included model procedures throughout the various areas of your organization.


Health Care Compliance Association (HCCA) Compliance Dictionary found at

Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of the Inspector General  (OIG), Work Plan Appendix B: Acronyms and Abbreviations found at

Denise Atwood, RN, JD, CPHRM

District Medical Group (DMG), Inc., Chief Risk Officer and Denise Atwood, PLLC

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article or blog are the author’s and do not represent the opinions of DMG.

Denise Atwood, RN, JD, CPHRM has over 30 years of healthcare experience in compliance, risk management, quality, and clinical areas. She is also a published author and educator on risk, compliance, medical-legal and ethics issues. She is currently the Chief Risk Officer and Associate General Counsel at a nonprofit, multispecialty provider group in Phoenix, Arizona and Vice President of the company’s self-insurance captive.  

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