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Medical Jargon Can Disrupt Patient Care and Experience

By Brielle Benyon
Between long drug names and constantly evolving treatment procedures, patients may feel like they are hearing a completely different language when listening to an oncology health care provider.

Constantly using medical jargon and the phrases that are developed in hospital hallways around the nation can be problematic for both patients and clinicians, according to a recent opinion piece published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

“Like other professions, medicine has its own jargon. While it can be fun to needle trainees in a lighthearted way about some of these terms, many of them have little effect on patients,” the authors wrote.”

For example, when a nurse or other provider labels a patient with metastatic cancer as having “end-stage disease,” it may, “result in anchoring bias or unintentionally conveying an unavoidable risk of clinical worsening, leading to less-aggressive treatment than warranted,” according to the authors.

The authors listed other examples of medical jargon that clinicians use that stray from the original meaning of the word or phrase. These include “blasting” a medication, or “moving a patient to the floor.” Instead, terms like “administering” the medication or “transferring the patient to [name of medical unit]” should be used.

Now, as new nurses and physicians are being trained, it is critical that the leaders before them move to a more patient- and family-friendly communication approach.

“Given that those seeking to join the medical community are likely to adopt the language they see and hear every day while in training, it falls on us to choose our words deliberately and with purpose. We need to recalibrate our language,” the authors wrote.

The authors also explained that well-timed feedback for new clinicians using inappropriate language is also key.

“Incorporating feedback about communication in end-of-rotation evaluations would likely be welcomed by most learners,” they wrote. “Furthermore, such feedback might carry more weight if learners saw it delivered among members of the community rather than only in a top-down manner toward those in training.”


Luks AM, Goldberger ZD. Watch Your Language! – Misusage and Neologisms in Clinical Communications. JAMA Internal Medicine. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2020.5679
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