WHAT IS MEDICAL JARGON?
By Josh Kudo, Century Fitness Trainer and Wellness Advisor
Hey, a couple quick questions:
- Are you a human?
- Do you understand what these words mean?
- Have you ever seen a doctor?
You probably answered yes to these questions, meaning that you are human being who reads and presumably understands English, and that you have a body that sometimes gets ill. The reason for these questions is to get you to realize that the sneaking suspicion you have that you and your doctor are not speaking the same language about your body is accurate. When you are ill and most vulnerable, you are confronted with mystifying medical jargon and sent out the door in a whirlwind of unanswered questions.
First of all, there actually is a good reason why healthcare professionals use jargon when discussing your medical conditions. Medical jargon is its own language so that that it can be understood globally. If you have an emergency medical procedure in Canada while on vacation, it should be nice to know that your doctors back home can understand what happened to you quickly and easily. The entire medical community speaks this language to better aid in communication and transfer ideas efficiently.
But what good is it to you when your primary care doctor tells you that you have a “spondylolisthesis at your L5 vertebrae or you are presenting with radicular symptoms into your lower extremity due to bilateral spinal stenosis in your lumbar region?” Okay, great. Time to go home and WebMD everything my doctor just told me and hope I understand them correctly. You trust that your doctor knows what they are talking about. After all, they went to school for at least 8 years and it doesn’t matter what your diagnosis is so long as they can get you better, right? Well, your medical professional is not infallible. Years of medical training does not make them correct one hundred percent of the time and the more informed you are, the better you will be at advocating for yourself when facing a sCArY meDICaL dIaGnOsIS.
This gap between common English and medical jargon is a large problem in the healthcare community from the very outset of medical training. Many schools teach this language throughout medical training; physicians, physicians assistants, physical therapists, nurses, x-ray technicians and even front desk staff, in some cases, get indoctrinated into this isolating practice of speaking jargon from the moment you start filling out prior medical history forms. Do you have a history of pericarditis? At schools around the country, some steps have been taken to dissuade the usage of jargon when talking to patients. However, it is a slow change, with the old-guard continuing the tradition of mystification and isolation.
So, what can you do about it? Ask questions. Set the record straight with your medical professionals. As hard as it can be and as pressured as it can feel when you only have 15 minutes with your primary care, make sure you get all your questions answered that day. Bring a note pad with you to jot down words they may have casually spoken that sound like Latin (it probably is Latin) and get clarification on it. Be proactive in making those phone calls to follow-up with your health care provider or their staff if you feel unsure about a given topic. Slow your doctor down; you pay good money for your visit, so get the most out of it.
Josh Kudo, DPT