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How to Identify the Seven Types of Jargon-Oblivion

Mike Pitt, M.D.

Mike Pitt, M.D.

Co-founder, CEO

Dr. Pitt is a Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota and an award-winning educator

This blog article summarizes a study co-authored by Q-rounds cofounder and CEO Michael Pitt, MD, and Marissa Hendrickson, MD.

Healthcare professionals know the importance of effective provider-patient communication, which is why many of them would be surprised to learn how often they default to using jargon—and the confusion it causes patients.

Jargon-oblivion—a term coined by Q-rounds co-founder and CEO, Pitt and his colleague Hendrickson—describes the discrepancy between physicians’ self-rated skill in clear communication and their patients’ ability to understand the terms being used. 

We’ve compiled the seven most common types of jargon-oblivion to help providers determine what types of jargon may be present in their patient interactions.

Type 1: Technical terminology

This is what most people think of when they define medical jargon. These words were likely learned in medical school including disease names, symptoms, anatomy, procedures, treatments and laboratory tests. In many cases, providers may not have known these words before their own medical training.

Type 2: Alphabet soup

Acronyms and abbreviations are a sub-category of technical terminology. While qualifying an abbreviation with the full term may seem helpful, it often generates further confusion. Saying “You had an MI—a myocardial infarction” is still less clear than telling someone, “You had a heart attack.” 

Type 3: Medical vernacular

These words may be familiar to people, but are not universally known or understood. Words like febrile for having a fever, or sepsis for life-threatening infection, may be something many people have heard frequently in medical TV shows, but that doesn’t guarantee people will understand its importance or significance.

Type  4: Medicalized English

These words or phrases may be known, but have a different meaning in the context of medicine with many things meaning the opposite in medicine as they do in regular use. Negative test results are usually a good thing, meaning the patient doesn’t have the condition they were tested for, but negative in everyday usage is thought of as a bad thing, such as negative restaurant reviews. This accidental antonym—a word opposite in meaning to another—has been shown to confuse patients.

Type 5: Unnecessary synonyms 

Medical synonyms are often used to replace simple, universally understood terms, such as upper extremities instead of arms or erythema instead of red. 

Type 6: Euphemisms

These words are attempts to soften language providers may find difficult to say, but which provide less clarity. Doctors may say a “spot on the X-ray” or avoid using the words death or dying directly, choosing euphemisms instead. 

Type 7: Judgemental jargon

These phrases may reflect bias or appear derogatory, despite there being no such intent. Examples include describing the primary concern a patient has as their chief complaint, which is taught in medical school and included in many medical note templates, but this is often interpreted by patients as their doctor describing them as complaining.  

Rounding it up

Identifying and minimizing jargon-oblivion is a relatively easy way for providers to improve their ability to communicate with patients in ways that they find meaningful to provide safe, effective, patient-centered care. Because if patients can’t understand the meaning of what providers are saying, their efforts to communicate become meaningless.

Q-rounds helps address jargon-oblivion by making multidisciplinary family-centered rounds possible. Having care teams, the patient and their family present makes it easier to recognize when confusion occurs so clarifying comments or further explanation can be given.

Interested in learning more? Read the full study or see how Q-rounds can help.