Using Medical Jargon Confuses Patients Amid Low Health Literacy Trends
According to a study published in JAMA Network Open, patients are better able to understand their health status when providers use verbiage that is free of medical jargon. The researchers considered common medical jargon that has a different or even opposite meaning in common usage, such as the words "positive" and "gross." The researchers surveyed 215 people at the Minnesota State Fair to gauge their knowledge of certain common phrases used during medical encounters. They found, for instance, that less than 50% of respondents understood that the phrase "neuro exam is grossly intact" was a good thing, likely due to their interpretation of "gross" meaning "unpleasant." Additionally, despite 96% of respondents understanding that a negative cancer screening meant they did not have cancer, only 67% understood that "positive nodes" meant the cancer had spread. The researchers concluded that phrasing without jargon is best but that some providers find it difficult to eliminate common phrases that are not wholly technical or scientific. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that just 12% of Americans have proficient health literacy skills in terms of both understanding and using medical terminology.
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