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Use the correct tense to write about ‘today’s visit’

Doctor and patient

One of the most common questions we are asked is which tense to use to report events from ‘today’s visit’ with the patient. Similar to when writing about relationship statuses, it is important to use the right tense.

When discussing ‘today’s visit’, you are reporting on a completed past event. However, you may not necessarily report all details from the visit using the past tense.

While this may sound confusing there are some tips you can follow to help. Here are some that can help you decide which tense is the right one:

  1. Past tense

For details such as test results or vital signs, which were accurate at the time of the visit, the past tense is appropriate.

Example:

  • On examination, the abdomen was tender on palpation.
  1. Present tense

For details such as lifestyle choices, the present tense is appropriate

Example:

  • Despite previous advice, Mr Hoskings is still smoking 20 cigarettes a day.
  1. Present perfect

For details which describe unresolved situations such as improvement or deterioration in the patient’s condition, the present perfect tense is appropriate.

Example:

  • Since her last visit, Mrs Baxter’s pain levels have reduced from an 8 to a 4.

It is fine to use more than one tense within the paragraph describing the visit. But always make sure you use the correct tense for the meaning you intend so as not to confuse the reader.

If you would like to find more helpful writing tips like this, take a look at our OET Preparation Blog. You’ll find tips about all aspects of the English language.