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The use of jargon

This doctor-patient interaction shows how the use of medical jargon can lead to patient misunderstanding.
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JANNE TULLIUS: Today, we are at the GP office of Dr. Young. She is ready to see her next patient, Mr. Green, who is coming for his annual checkup. Mr. Green is 70 years old and has been suffering from chronic kidney problems and diabetes for many years already. He has limited health literacy, which shows in low understanding of information. The annual checkups are essential for him to understand his disease. DR.
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YOUNG: Hello, Mr. Green. How have you been? MR.
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GREEN: Yes, good. DR.
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YOUNG: You did not forget to get your blood tested? MR.
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GREEN: No, no. DR.
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YOUNG: And you also stayed sober before the test? MR.
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GREEN: [CHUCKLES] Yeah, it’s 11:00 in the morning. DR.
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YOUNG: No, I mean as in no food. MR.
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GREEN: I didn’t eat anything, just a cup of coffee. DR.
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YOUNG: And did you put sugar in your coffee? MR.
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GREEN: Yes, and a bit of milk. DR.
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YOUNG: Well, that’s actually not what you should do when you’re supposed to be sober. I also see that you’ve been here for a urine test? MR.
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GREEN: Yes, I had to go to the toilet so often, all right? DR.
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YOUNG: And this was negative? MR.
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GREEN: No, it was good. DR.
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YOUNG: That’s what I mean, it was negatively tested. MR.
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GREEN: Do I have it? DR.
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YOUNG: No, you don’t have it. MR.
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GREEN: Oh, OK.
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JANNE TULLIUS: This doctor uses jargon and medical terms that are difficult to understand for this patient, such as the term “sober,” which clearly has a different meaning to the patient and the doctor. She also uses long words and sentences, such as the phrase, “you were negatively tested,” which also causes another problem here, because the patient gets confused. In everyday communication, a negative test means something bad. Whereas in medical terms, this is actually a positive outcome. This choice of language leads to ambiguities for a patient with limited understanding of the topic discussed. The use of jargon is a communication barrier commonly experienced by patients with limited health literacy.
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Words that sound logical for most health care professionals can be incomprehensible for patients with limited health literacy. So be aware to check whether your patient understands the word you use. In this conversation, there are also nonverbal communication barriers. The doctor seems to be hurried, a bit irritated, and was not really paying attention to the patient, for example, by looking at a computer screen when the patient is talking instead of actively looking and listening to the patient.

The use of jargon is a communication barrier commonly experienced by patients with limited health literacy. Words that sound logical for most healthcare professionals can be incomprehensible for patients with limited health literacy. This video shows how this may work in practice.

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Working with Patients with Limited Health Literacy

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