Words That Most People Don't Know...

I've heard people say that "medical school teaches you a new language" but that doctors don't learn how to translate that language well.

I attend a lot of meetings with physicians, and so I started putting words in my margins to look up. Things like "Baconian Induction" which to me, sounds like a cooking technique...but is actually part of the reasoning involved in scientific research, and "suboptimal hypertension control," which means your blood pressure is too high. 

This is one of the reasons why health literacy is so important -- not just assessing it, but teaching doctors to remember that most people don't know these precise terms. There are good reasons why medical terms are so precise -- Where is it? What's happening? How often? Is it getting worse? What's the cause?

But for patients, it makes things more confusing, as they are trying to listen to the doctor, read his or her physical cues, and determine just how bad it is. The more we learn about medicine, the more we need to remember that people working outside the field need simple, topline information.

  • What's is happening in my body?
  • What should I do next?
  • What will happen if I don't do that? 

Health literacy sounds simple, but as we often say in writing: "If you can't explain something simply, you don't understand it well enough." (attributed to Albert Einstein)

So I'm collecting words on a roll of paper in my office, to remind myself to keep it simple. 

 

"I think the doctor said..."

I just read an article in the Journal of Patient Experience with this statistic in it: 

"Miscommunication between physicians and patients is the most common cause of medical errors and is responsible for more than 60 percent of sentinel events that lead to increased mortality or injury among hospital patients." 

Think about that. More than half of errors are caused by two people trying to communicate but failing to do so. And, I'm sure you've been there. I know I have. The doctor says to do something, in a regular tone of voice, and I'm not sure if it's a suggestion or an imperative statement. Or the doctor says "make sure to..." and I'm so overwhelmed by trying to remember it that I get confused. If you aren't in the habit of repeating it or writing it down, you may very well forget it. 

The journal article was about AIDET training (created by the Studer Group) for physicians. It seems simple but patients know that many of these steps are missed. 

A: Acknowledge (address each person in the room)

I: Introduce yourself  (and your role and your specialty)

D: Duration (how long will you be in the room, is there a procedure happening?)

E: Explanation (what's the treatment? what's the diagnosis?)

T: Thank You (appreciation for their time, questions, etc.)

In a hospital environment, these common courtesies can easily be overlooked, because everyone is in a rush. But it matters. It matters to patients, and it may prevent medical errors and miscommunication. That seems like a great reason to take the time to do it.