Medical jargon may cloud doctor-patient communication

 02 Jan 2018 - 17:47

Medical jargon may cloud doctor-patient communication


London:  Patients misunderstanding of common used medical terms creates miscommunication, therefore decision-making may suffer, UK researchers say.

In a survey of London oral and maxillofacial surgery clinic patients, more than a third of participants did not know the meaning of terms like "benign" or "lesion" and more than half could not define "metastasis" or "lymph node," the study team reports in the British Dental Journal.

Communication between patient and practitioner is essential, the researchers write, but it may not be happening as often as doctors think it is.

"As a result, ill-informed patients tend to neglect timely treatment which can lead to very bad - sometimes disastrous - outcomes," Dr. Sidney Eisig of Columbia University's College of Dental Medicine in New York said.

"I've seen patients with premalignant lesions turn to cancer that otherwise might not have occurred had surgical treatment not been so delayed," Dr. Eisig added.

Emma Hayes of King's College Hospital, London, and her colleagues recruited 123 patients waiting for their appointments at the hospital's outpatient clinic to anonymously answer questionnaires about the meanings of several medical terms.

Participants also provided background information about themselves, including education level and whether English was their first language.

In a multiple-choice section of the questionnaire, they were asked to define: blister, ulcer, malignant, lesion and benign. In a free-written answer section, they were also asked to describe in their own words the meanings of: biopsy, tumor, lymph node, pre-malignant and metastasis.

Hayes' team found that 90 percent of respondents correctly defined blister as a bubble of fluid under the skin.

Ulcer came in at a distant second with just 70 percent choosing the appropriate definition as an open sore or break in the skin.

Forty-five percent of patients were able to define a biopsy as a test involving taking a sample, but 30 percent wrongly defined it as a test specifically for cancer.

Benign and metastasis were the least understood terms, with 33 percent of patients responding "Don't know" for the meaning of benign and just 6 percent correctly defining metastasis as the spread of a cancer to other areas of the body.