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Monday, April 30, 2012

Get Your Doctor to Stop Using Medical Jargon | Richard C. Senelick, M.D., HuffPost, Healthy Living

Ever experience this before?
A few months ago, my wife asked me to accompany her on a visit to the doctor to help interpret her test results. As my colleague rattled off a detailed explanation of "pH, calcium metabolism, oxalate ratios and the effect of citrate," I realized that even I didn't have a clue what he was talking about.
And that's a doctor who's confused!

Senelick explains that people with the worst health literacy skills have more health problems. He then writes:
Jargon is pervasive in all professions, but it has its greatest impact when doctors try to communicate with patients -- people whose lives are at stake. Health care professionals have their own verbal shorthand that may be highly effective when they speak to each other but causes confusion when used with laymen.
Senelick again points out his empathy for patients by noting a study of cancer screening that found patients had difficult with words like mammogram, tissue, biopsy, prostrate and rectal. He writes:
I was surprised because these words seem like "everyday" common terms to me, and I have to wonder how many times I used jargon when I thought I was speaking "plain language."
Fortunately, he writes, medical schools (I guess) are educating a new generation of doctors and nurses to use plain language. Still, he provides some steps we can take in a "simple program" called "Ask Me 3." It provides three questions to ask your doctor:

• What is my main problem?

• What do I need to do?

• Why is it important for me to do this?

And if you're still concerned about getting "jargon-packed answers," he provides more tips to help you get a clear understanding of your problem instead.

If anyone in the medical profession is reading this, I strongly suggest that you talk (and write) like the patients you're treating. In other words, YOU be a translator who's also helping to cure health illiteracy.


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