Doctors and nurses are being encouraged to chop down on unnecessary medical jargon when talking to their patients with a purpose to improve hospital and GP visits. As a part of the “Jargon Free Zone” project — the brainchild of Glasgow-based doctor Vicki Rodulson — healthcare staff can decide to don special pins or lanyards to point out they’re committed to clear communication and avoiding potentially mystifying technical language that may lead to potentially serious misunderstandings. The products, that are being sold on a not-for-profit basis, were developed in tandem with Dr Heidi Gardner of Little Science Co. — an organization which produced similar pins intended to point out that not all scientists seem like Albert Einstein.
Dr Rodulson said: “Very similar to the ‘Hello my name is’ and LGBT+ rainbow badges worn by staff within the NHS, I desired to create something that medical experts could wear to point out patients that they were committed to avoiding medical jargon when talking to them.
“There may be a wealth of evidence to support the importance of using plain language in health settings.” Such, she explains, can decrease anxiety and increase patient empowerment.
Nonetheless, she added, “we are able to’t detract from the nice work already being done around communication by NHS staff, especially during these stressful times.”
Dr Rodulson said that it is usually necessary to not go too far and find yourself either oversimplifying or condescending to patients. She says: “It is a delicate balance. Attending to know your patient really helps.
“What you’re often taught in medical school is to begin your consultation by asking the patient how much they know, before jumping in yourself.”
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Dr Graham Kramer was formerly the Scottish Government’s Clinical lead for Self Management and Health Literacy. He said: “It has been shown that half of what an individual hears in a consultation is forgotten and half of what they do remember is misunderstood.
“Jargon, or technical language, is a significant reason behind this misunderstanding. Individuals are often too ashamed or too polite to confess they don’t understand.
“They’ll often nod enthusiastically giving the illusion that communication has been successful when it’s been anything but. It will probably be an actual patient safety issue.”
Dr Kramer has several stories about jargon that illustrate this point — including one in all a one who couldn’t find the youngsters’s ward in a hospital because all of the signs said “paediatric ward”, and other of a patient who didn’t realise she had cancer since the doctor said that her test results had come back “positive”, which she misinterpreted within the sense of that being a very good thing.
Dr Kramer concluded: “People often feel disengaged and disempowered by technical language. Minimising jargon could be a easy and effective way of reducing miscommunication.
“Vicki’s contribution could be very welcome and can raise the problem amongst clinicians and hopefully reduce the unintentional use of those technical terms. Or perhaps, importantly, in the event that they do use a technical term, they make clear its meaning with the patient.”
There stays a spot, Dr Rodulson notes, for the usage of technical language between doctors, scientists and other specialists.
She explains: “It’s almost universal. It’s a shorthand for us to speak with one another. There’s so many terms because each term could be very specific.
“It means there’s no room for ambiguity and if you’re talking to one other health skilled, they know exactly what you mean.
“In such a fast-paced world, as healthcare may be, it helps with efficiency.”