Medical Lingo

by Joanna Smith on Jun 16, 2010

I teach workshops around the country for people interested in the field of healthcare advocacy, either in becoming an advocate for others or learning how to advocate for oneself.  Because there are a mix of medical professionals and consumers in these workshops, I need to be sure that I refrain from using “medical lingo” so everyone can understand the course content easily.  It has been harder than I thought to do this!

What is it about the world of healthcare, where someone leaving the hospital is “a discharge” and we talk about surgeries as a Whipple Procedures or a CABG (pronounced “Cabbage”)–and we use that language with the patients and clients we work with.  How easily that language slips out!  What I am realizing is that the world of healthcare is a foreign language–just as the worlds of insurance or accounting or law are separate languages.  And people entering the universe of healthcare, under stress, without knowing the language or having an interpreter to guide them–end up under even more stress.  We end up sounding like an exclusive club–and that’s not good healthcare delivery.

So what can we do?  Drop the medical language when talking with patients and clients.  Draw pictures instead; talk about risks and benefits to whatever is being considered; don’t be rushed in explanations; involve the individual and their family in a discussion that is exactly at their level of understanding.  It’s up to healthcare professionals  to figure out and match that level.  So the focus is on us speaking our client’s/patient’s language, not the other way around.