Medical jargon is a constant source of confusion for non-physicians. Even medical professionals can have difficulty understanding some of the terms used in medical literature. A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association investigates the level of understanding among non-physicians of medical jargon.
The study found that only 18 percent of respondents could correctly identify the meaning of three different medical terms: “myocardial infarction,” “benign,” and “malignant.” The majority of respondents (82 percent) had difficulty understanding at least one of the terms.
Medical jargon can be confusing for patients and their families as well. In a recent survey, nearly one-third of respondents reported that they had difficulty understanding their doctor’s instructions due to medical jargon.
The use of jargon in medical literature can make it difficult for patients to understand what they are reading. It can also make it difficult for physicians to communicate with each other. The use of medical jargon should be limited to ensure that information is clear and concise.
An estimated 350,000 people die each year in the United States from medical errors, and a significant number of these errors are due to communication breakdowns. Miscommunication can occur when clinicians use jargon, acronyms or other medicalese that is unfamiliar to patients or their families.
Jargon often develops as shorthand among groups of professionals who share a common knowledge base. While clinicians may understand what a particular term means, patients and families often do not. When clinicians use jargon, they may unintentionally communicate disrespect, dampen patients’ motivation to fight their disease or make them feel like they are not part of the decision-making process.
To avoid misunderstandings, it is important for clinicians to explain the meaning of any jargon they use. They should also ask patients and families if they understand what is being said. If not, clinicians should rephrase their comments using lay terms.
It is also important to avoid using acronyms. While they may save time in the short run, they can lead to confusion and frustration. For example, the acronym “DNR” (do not resuscitate) is often used in medical records and conversation, but patients and families may not know what it means.
Similarly, the phrase “failed to thrive” is often used in medical records to describe a child who is not growing at the expected rate. However, this phrase can be confusing and alarming to parents who may not know what it means.
The use of jargon and acronyms can also have legal implications. In one case, a patient was asked to sign a form that included the acronym “DNR.” The patient asked the clinician what it meant, but the clinician assumed the patient knew and did not explain it. The patient signed the form without understanding that it meant she would not receive CPR if her heart stopped.
When patients and families do not understand what clinicians are saying, they may make decisions that are not in their best interests. For example, one study found that when patients did not understand their discharge instructions, they were more likely to be readmitted to the hospital.
To improve communication and avoid misunderstandings, it is important for clinicians to use clear and concise language when talking to patients and their families. Medical jargon is often the source of confusion and should be avoided.