Medical language can sometimes stump patients. Some colloquialisms are straight up head-scratching.
Calling a patient’s neurological exam “intact,” for example, might not sound good, says pediatrician Michael Pitt of the University of Minnesota School of Medicine in Minneapolis. But it actually means that everything is fine and working as expected.
In 2021, Pete and his colleagues at the Minnesota State Fair asked 215 adults to decipher this language and 12 other medical sayings that patients might hear from doctors or read in their notes. People may be tripped up by familiar words and phrases What has one meaning in everyday English has an entirely different meaning in medicine, researchers report Nov. 30 in JAMA Network Open.
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For example, only about 20 percent of respondents understood what doctors meant when they said “impressive X-ray results.” In plain language, that means the doctor has bad news for you — the opposite of what some patients expect, Pitt said.
When surveyed, doctors overwhelmingly agree that medical jargon should be avoided when talking to patients, Pitt said. But many don’t even know they’re doing it. There’s a technical term for this too, Pete added: “Jargon forgetting.”
He hopes his team’s results will give doctors an “aha” and make them aware of phrases that may confuse patients. Pitt said he wants patients to feel empowered to speak up if what a doctor says isn’t clear.
He has been mentoring his family for many years. When they went to the doctor, there was one question in particular he wanted them to ask. Before they leave the appointment, they summarize what the doctor said and ask, “Am I doing it right?”
“It’s such a great phrase to have in your back pocket,” Pete said.