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How to Understand Healthcare Jargon

The heart of most doctor-patient-nurse interactions is the communication of medically pertinent and often technical information. Unfortunately, a major barrier to patient understanding is the failure of providers to speak plainly. Patients need to insist that providers take the mumbo jumbo out of their speech by using best communication practices.

  • When the doctor or nurse uses unfamiliar medical jargon, ask them to decode the language. For example, a nonresectable tumor is better described as inoperable;
  • adjuvant chemotherapy is chemo.
  • Encourage the use of analogies and hand-drawn pictures rather than professional anatomical drawings.
  • Ask for easily-read brochures intended for the lay public rather than academic literature.
  • Don’t be shy about asking questions if any instruction or explanation is unclear. Remember, most people need to hear a message three times before it sinks in. Remember what you learned in speech class: use an introduction, body and conclusion—tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you’ve told them.
  • Take notes during the encounter for later reference and, if possible, bring a friend as a subsequent sounding board.
  • At the end of your encounter, ask to restate in your own words what you have learned and been told to do. This process is called “teach back.” All healthcare providers should make this practice routine without the need of encouragement from the patient.

Michael J. Grace, JD, CPHRM is a Rancho Mirage resident, writer, artist, and licensed California attorney. This is the first of the continuing series about Miscommunication in Healthcare. He can be reached at 619-252-3656 or mikegrace1950@gmail.com

Stay tuned for more of Mike Grace’s series in future editions of the Rancho Mirage Insider!

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