10 Standards of Behavior Essential for Every Healthcare Organization [Part 3]

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We’re in the process of reviewing 10 Standards of Behavior. This week we’re digging into #7, how and why to Avoid the Use of Medical Jargon.

We are taking highlights from MedicalGPS’ service improvement program, Endeavor for Excellence: Start Where the Patient Starts. We believe these 10 Standards of Behavior and customer service techniques are essential ingredients to your organization’s success.

  • Importance of Eye Contact
  • Patient’s Preferred Name
  • Patient’s Personal Details
  • Body Language
  • Open-ended Questions
  • Active Listening Techniques
  • Avoid Use of Medical Jargon
  • Proactively Demonstrate Courtesy and Respect
  • Waiting Room Rounding
  • Telephone Etiquette

7. Avoid Use of Medical Jargon

Avoiding the use of medical jargon may sound simple enough, but it can get a little tricky sometimes. In this week’s blog we’ll offer a few techniques that you and your team may find useful.

Before we jump into the practical, ‘how-to’ TIPs, let’s talk about the ‘why’. Why is it important to avoid medical jargon in the first place? Below are some good reasons.

“Limited health literacy can pose a risk to patient safety. Establishing awareness of the problem, committing to addressing the issue, and implementing communication changes in the healthcare environment can help ensure that patients understand their health issues and are competent in managing their care.” (1)

It’s Not Just a Few

Nearly nine out of 10 adults have difficulty following routine medical advice, largely because it’s often incomprehensible to average people, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. (2)

I was amazed to learn that nearly 90% of patients do not understand even very basic medical terms such as “lesion”. Assuming your patients ‘just know’ what you know can be a mistake. One effective technique is to ask for the patient’s permission to explain the procedure, treatment, or diagnostics, in simple terms. More times than not, they will give their blessings and greatly appreciate the special attention.

Avoiding Medical Jargon INCLUDES Avoiding Common Medical Abbreviations

I’ve been in healthcare since 1994. Before healthcare I worked in the aviation industry. I used to think that the aviation industry used more abbreviations than perhaps any other industry out there. I’m not so sure anymore. I now believe Healthcare takes 1st place when it comes to the use of industry jargon and the use of industry unique abbreviations.

I was blown away by the list compiled by MedicineNet, Common Medical Abbreviations List (Acronyms and Definitions).

Taking a few minutes to explain a treatment, condition, or diagnosis in layman terms will not only improve communication with your patients, it will demonstrate respect and make the patient feel that you care about them, as an individual.

How to Avoid Using Medical Jargon

It sounds simple enough, just avoid using medical jargon. Well, as you know if you have tried it, it’s not that easy.

Below are some TIPs that will help.

  1. Use an analogy: Think of an analogy that specifically relates to the patient. For example, if explaining to my nine-year-old granddaughter, Otitis media with effusion (OME), she would be able to relate to the stagnant water that collects in her goldfish bowl from time to time. Sometimes the water in the goldfish bowl, if not cleaned out every week, can become dirty and hurt the fish.
  2. Listen for patient feedback: Ask the patient to repeat what they heard, but in their own words. Confirm that the patient understood correctly. If the patient did not seem to understand on the first attempt, try again and gently guide the patient back towards the concept by using additional comparisons that help them grasp the concept, medical condition, or procedure.
  3. Use illustrations, pictures or 3D models: Most of us can relate to illustrations or pictures, or even better, a three-dimensional model. In the example above, trying to explain OME, having a model of the ear, and indicating to my granddaughter that there is water inside of the middle ear area will help her understand what’s happening. The parent or guardian that accompanied the patient into the exam room will also appreciate the layman explanation.

A Great Resource

If you’re sometimes feeling overwhelmed by trying to think of how to translate medical terms into plain, and simple language, here is at least one great resource, which should lead to improved patient communications.

Medical Terms in Lay Language – Alternative Lay Language for Medical Terms in Consent Forms

Having a common vocabulary of medical terms to communicate from one healthcare professional to another healthcare professional is essential. Having the ability to translate those medical terms into language patients understand is equally important.

Please let us know if you have comments or questions, and subscribe to our Email Updates, so that you can be assured to receive Thinking Thursdays TIPs.

Thank you!

(1) Perm J. 2008 Summer; 12(3): 67–69.
Published online Summer 2008. doi: 10.7812/tpp/07-144
PMCID: PMC3037129
PMID: 21331214
“Do Patients Understand?”, by Suzanne Graham, RN, PhD and John Brookey, MD

(2) The Wallstreet Journal, “Taking Medical Jargon Out of Doctor Visits”, by Laura Landro
Updated July 6, 2010 12:01 am ET

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