Doctors and nurses are encouraged to reduce unnecessary medical jargon when talking to their patients to improve hospital and GP visits. As part of the “Jargon Free Zone” project, the brainchild of the Glasgow doctor vicki rodulson — Healthcare workers may choose to wear special pins or lanyards to show they are committed to clear communication and avoid potentially confusing technical language that could lead to potentially serious misunderstandings. The products, which are sold on a non-profit basis, were co-developed with Dr. Heidi Gardner of Little Science Co., a company that produced similar pins meant to show that not all scientists look like Albert Einstein.
Dr Rodulson said: “Like the ‘Hello my name is’ and the LGBT+ rainbow badges worn by NHS staff, I wanted to create something that healthcare workers could wear to show patients they were committed to avoid medical jargon when talking to them.
“There is a large body of evidence supporting the importance of using plain language in healthcare settings.” Such, he explains, can decrease anxiety and increase patient empowerment.
However, he added, “we cannot detract from the great work that is already being done by NHS staff around communication, especially during these stressful times.”
Dr. Rodulson said it’s also important not to go too far and end up oversimplifying or patronizing patients. She says: “This is a delicate balance. Getting to know your patient really helps.
“What they often teach you in medical school is to start your consultation by asking the patient how much they know, before jumping in yourself.”
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Dr Graham Kramer was previously the Scottish Government’s Clinical Lead for Self-Management and Health Literacy. He said: “It has been shown that half of what a person hears in a consultation is forgotten and half of what they do remember is misinterpreted.
“Jargon, or technical language, is one of the main causes of this misunderstanding. People are often too embarrassed or too polite to admit that they don’t understand.
“They often nod enthusiastically giving the illusion that the communication has been successful when it has been the opposite. It can be a real patient safety issue.”
Dr. Kramer has several slang stories that illustrate this point, including one about a person who couldn’t find the children’s ward at a hospital because all the signs said “pediatrics ward,” and another about a patient who couldn’t find She found out she had cancer because the doctor said her test results were “positive,” which she misinterpreted as a good thing.
Dr. Kramer concluded: “People often feel disconnected and disempowered by technical language. Minimizing jargon can be a simple and effective way to reduce miscommunication.
“Vicki’s contribution is very welcome and will raise the issue among clinicians and hopefully reduce the unintentional use of these technical terms. Or perhaps more importantly, if they use a technical term, they clarify its meaning with the patient.”
There remains a place, Dr. Rodulson points out, for the use of technical language among doctors, scientists and other specialists.
She explains: “It’s almost universal. It is an abbreviation for us to communicate with each other. There are so many terms because each term is very specific.
“It means there is no room for ambiguity and when you talk to another healthcare professional, they know exactly what you mean.
“In a world that is as fast-paced as healthcare can be, it helps with efficiency.”