Posted in JAMA Network OpenResearchers at the University of Minnesota Medical School have discovered that there is often a disconnect between the medical language used by doctors and the understanding of patients. This mismatch in clinicians’ intentions to speak up with the fact that they continue to use confusing terminology is known as jargon forgetfulness. Their findings show that many common phrases are misunderstood when used in a medical setting and can often be interpreted the opposite of what is intended.
“If a doctor’s communication with patients is not understood, a health care plan is meaningless,” said Michael Pitt, MD, associate professor at the U of M School of Medicine and pediatrician at M Health Fairview. “With this study, we aim to highlight to medical professionals like ourselves how many expressions we use that are misunderstood in patients.”
More than 200 adults were surveyed at the 2021 Minnesota State Fair. Each participant was given 13 sentences they could hear during the doctor’s visit and were asked what they thought it meant. The results showed:
While 96% of respondents understood that negative cancer screening results mean they did not have cancer, only 67% correctly understood that having “positive” lymph nodes is bad news.
21% of respondents thought that “your tumor is progressing” was good news; probably progress has a positive connotation.
79% of respondents thought it was considered good news if their clinician said their X-rays were ‘impressive’; ‘impressive’ typically means that a doctor is concerned about the results.
2% of patients correctly understood what it meant when a doctor was worried about having a ‘mysterious infection’. This means the doctor was worried about a latent infection, but more and more people thought that meant the doctor was worried they were cursed.
Being aware of often misunderstood phrases, healthcare professionals can broaden their definitions of what they see as jargon and work to improve their communication with patients.
The research team plans to continue working on strategies to identify and eliminate jargon to improve communication between patients and healthcare providers. They also plan to return to the Minnesota State Fair in 2023 to continue their work in this area.
This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health National Center for the Advancement of Translational Sciences grant UL1TR002494. Funding was also provided by the University of Minnesota Driven to Discover grant.
materials provided by University of Minnesota Medical School. Originally written by Alex Smith. Note: Content can be edited for style and length.