Monday, 10 March 2008

Calling a spade a spade

Have you ever had a conversation with a lawyer/plumber/car mechanic and got frustrated because you didn't understand half of what they were saying? How did that make you feel? Probably like a prize idiot. Did you ask them to explain what they meant? Probably not. I'll bet you worried, too - somehow when we don't fully understand we assume the worst.

Put the shoe, if you will, on the other foot. When you speak to patients do you use medical or healthcare terminology? And how does that make your patients feel?

The problem is you don't set out to flummox anyone. It's so easy to forget that Jo Public doesn't know her excisional biopsy from her lumpectomy. When we use words every day we forget that they aren't everyday words. And of course you tell your patients that they can ask about anything they understand, but is it easy to admit ignorance? And what words do you use to explain lumpectomy? My trusty Dorland's says it's a surgical excision of only the palpable lesion in carcinoma of the breast. Yeah, right.

Luckily help is at hand from the (American) Medical Library Association. They have produced online leaflets to help people "decipher medspeak". The leaflets cover breast cancer, diabetes, heart disease, eye disease, HIV/AIDS and stroke. They also have lists of the pesky Latin abbreviations that might end up on notes.

The MLA isn't alone in feeling flummoxed. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has a list of medical terms explained. A list from UCL helps decipher words by giving the origin of some of the bits of words that commonly crop up (exo, endo, angio, broncho, cardio). KidsHealth explains really basic words from acne to wisdom teeth, and the NHS Direct glossary takes you from abdomens to x-rays.
And a lumpectomy? Easy. It's a surgical procedure to remove only the cancerous breast lump.

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