About the Universal
Patient Language

The UPL is an evolving set of resources to help communicate to patients about complex topics. It was created in collaboration with patients, caregivers, advocates, healthcare providers, and visual communication experts.

Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) started to develop the UPL to provide practical tools and guidance to BMS teams who create patient communications. To ensure that the UPL met this goal, BMS led the development of the UPL, working in collaboration with patients, caregivers, and experts inside and outside the pharmaceutical industry.

We have applied the UPL at BMS to selected patient communications, and believe it is valuable for anyone who might create healthcare communications. That is why we have made the UPL available as a public resource. Our hope is to continue collaborating across the healthcare system to improve patient experience.

Learn how to apply the UPL 


The Need for UPL

Despite how crucial patient communications are to the patient experience, executing them well is not always easy. At BMS, we set out to solve this challenge by rethinking our own communications. We asked ourselves the following questions to guide the development of the UPL.


How We Built the UPL

With the support of Bridgeable, we took a collaborative, user-centered design approach. That means we focused primarily on the communication needs of patients, and used systems thinking, co-creation, and prototyping to build the UPL.
Our Process

There were two phases in our process for building the UPL.

First, we welcomed our external expert collaborators and internal BMS stakeholders to two different co-creation sessions. The first session focused on defining the initial architecture of the UPL, while the second session emphasized building out the UPL in more detail. Following each co-creation session, we refined prototypes of the UPL and validated them with patient advocacy groups, our expert collaborators from the original co-creation sessions, and various BMS stakeholders. Their feedback helped us identify the elements that were working well, those that weren’t, and those that were missing.

Second, applying the UPL to build patient communications helped us make the UPL a practical resource, and one that is continuously improved. When we apply the UPL to a new challenge area, we host a co-creation session with our collaborators to gain feedback, learn more, and refine the UPL.

Our Collaborators


and Caregivers



Our collaborators include patients, caregivers, nurses, representatives from patient advocacy groups, visual communication experts, and additional subject-matter experts.


Growing and Evolving the UPL

We say the UPL is “always ready, never finished,” because every time we use it, we learn something new and improve the UPL.

It could be a new rule, a new tool, or just a nuance — there is always another application that expands our knowledge of how best to communicate with patients. We expect to evolve the UPL as our knowledge evolves through practical application.

While we develop and refine communication prototypes through co-creation, we also gather feedback to improve the whole UPL. This additional layer of iteration helps keep us grounded in real needs — the needs of patients, and of BMS employees who will use the UPL on an ongoing basis.

To learn more about the UPL process, download our Process Deep Dive Booklet:

In the spirit of “always ready, never finished” we created readiness tags. You will see these on UPL resources to signify the following:

Readiness Tags

Materials with this tag have been validated extensively, and
significant changes will be infrequent.

Materials with this tag still have areas for improvement, and more
resources will be added over time.

Materials with this tag contain some early work and may change

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