40 Words that May Confuse Patients

When it comes to helping a patient, communication is key. Health outcomes are directly influenced by the clarity of actionable information that you provide to a patient. It has reached the point that limited health literacy is considered a hidden epidemic. It is not only technical medical terminology that is problematic, it is also common words presented in a healthcare context that can cause confusion.

These misunderstandings may have severe consequences. Take the word inflammable, for example. The prefix in- is used as an intensifier. The safety concern arises because people associate the prefix in- with negation, like the word inexpensive denoting not expensive. This confusion has lead to safety concerns, so much so that flammable has become the standardized word on safety labels.

There is a need to convey complex written and verbal information in the healthcare system. It is essential that the information is easily understood, with common terms explained in simple, relatable ways. Visuals can also be a useful tool to share information with a patient.

It is important to remember that low health care literacy affects everyone including those with low literacy. Patients, who may be extremely literate in their own areas of expertise, may have a problem understanding medical terminology.

The National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF) hascategorized common words that are problematic. They have divided the words into the following four categories:

  1. Medical words
  2. Value judgement words
  3. Concept words
  4. Category words

The NPSF has produced this list of commonly confused words from each category.

Medical Word Examples: Words frequently used by doctors and in health care instructions.

Problem Word

Alternative Words

Ailment

Sickness, illness, problem with your health

Benign

Will not cause harm; is not cancer

Condition

How you feel; health problems

Dysfunction

Problem

Inhibitor

Drug that stops something that is bad for you

Intermittent

Off and on

Lesion

Wound; sore; infected patch of skin

Oral

By mouth

Procedure

Something done to treat your problems; operation

Vertigo

Dizziness

 

Value Judgment Word Examples: Words that may need an example or visual to convey clear meaning.

Problem Word

Alternative Words

Adequate

Enough

Adjust

Fine-tune; change

Cautiously

With care; slowly

Excessive

Too much

Increase Gradually

Add to

Moderately

Not too much

Progressive

Gets worse (or better)

Routinely

Often

Significantly

Enough to make a difference

Temporary

For a limited time; for about (an hour, day…)

Example: for less than a week

 

Concept Word Examples: Words used to describe an idea, metaphor, or notion.

Problem Word

Alternative Words

Active Role

Taking part in

Avoid

Stay away from; do not use (or eat)

Collaborate

Work together

Factor

Other thing

Gauge

Measure; get a better idea of; test (dependent on context)

Intake

What you eat or drink; what goes into your body

Landmark

Very important (adj.)

Important event; turning point (n.)

Option

Choice

Referral

Ask you to see another doctor; get a second opinion

Wellness

Good health; feeling good

 

Category Word Examples: Words that describe a group or sub-set, and may be unfamiliar.

Problem Word

Alternative Words

Activity

Something you do; something you do often, like driving a car

Adverse (reaction)

Bad

Cognitive

Learning; thinking

Hazardous

Not safe; dangerous

High-intensity exercise

Use an example, such as running

Generic

Product sold without a brand name, like ibuprofen (Advil is a brand name)

Noncancerous

Not cancer

Poultry

Chicken, turkey, etc.

Prosthesis

Replacement body part, such as a man-made arm

Support

Help with your needs – for money, friendship, or care

 

2Ascribe Inc. is a medical transcription services agency located in Toronto, Ontario Canada, providing medical transcription services to physicians, clinics and other healthcare providers across Canada and the US. Having recently introduced WEBscribe, a client interface portal for document management, 2Ascribe continues to implement and develop technology to assist and improve the transcription process for physicians and other healthcare providers. As a service to our clients and the healthcare industry, 2Ascribe offers articles of interest to physicians and other healthcare professionals, medical transcriptionists and office staff, as well as of general interest. 

This entry was posted on in Doctor Resources, General Interest, Health & Wellness.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>