Doctors Can’t Spell, But They Know How To Confuse Us With Big Words

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Have you ever noticed how important it is for doctors to use big words when discussing health issues. Medical terminology is taught in school, but doctors seem to forget that the average patient hasn’t taken these courses. Early in my practice I remember taking almost 45 minutes to explain in detail a patient’s health problems. I was very impressed with my explanation and proudly asked at its conclusion if there were any questions. The patient told me he only had one question. I was elated and confidently asked, “what is your question?” The patient responded, “can you help me?” After my ego fully deflated, I realized my lengthy explanation did nothing more than waste my patient’s time. My attempt to sound intelligent did nothing more than prove a lack of communication skill on my part. Within just a few minutes, I was able to re-explain the problem more clearly and the effectiveness of the treatment I would be performing. The patient was elated. I never made that mistake again.

This encounter made me think about health care and the terminology used when dealing with patients. I’m convinced the medical language requiring a minimum of 5 syllables when dealing with diagnosis was invented to accentuate the intelligence of the physician while disguising the limitations within our profession. I’ll bet you’d like some proof!

  1. IDIOPATHIC (a good 5 syllable word) means, “I don’t know the cause.” Idiopathic scoliosis is an example of a diagnosis that means in “English”, curvature of the spine with an unknown cause. Idiopathic hypertension is high blood pressure with an unknown cause. Sounds professional and readily accepted by the patient because they find it difficult to believe that a doctor with years of study is providing a diagnosis that means “I don’t know why?”

  2. IATROGENIC (another good 5 syllable word) means, “illness or condition caused by a doctor’s examination or treatment.” Bet you’d be surprised to find out that the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States is iatrogenic. This information doesn’t make the headline news everyday! This probably motivated Dr. Robert Mendelsohn M.D. to write the book entitled, “How To Raise A Healthy Child In Spite Of Your Doctor.”

  3. SEBORRHOEIC KERATOSIS (9 syllables in 2 words) These 9 syllables could be reduced to 1. How about we simply say, “warts.” Not only are we using up more oxygen than necessary, we are scaring people unnecessarily. I believe the 9 syllables are used to create more concern by the patient justifying medical (costly) treatment rather than simple home remedies such as grinding up an aspirin and covering the wart for 2-3 weeks. (Disclosure: Do NOT do this without having a licensed healthcare professional first state it is safe and appropriate to do so.) Yes, this is an actual method to reduce warts and a whole lot less costly!

  4. DIFFERENTIAL DIAGNOSIS (only 8 syllables in 2 words) This translates to mean, “my best educated guesses.” Diagnosis sounds authoritative and based on science. Many different conditions have similar presentations. Diagnosis accuracy can vary greatly. The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study in 2013 demonstrating 50 % accuracy in simple cases and 7% accuracy in complicated cases. (JAMA Intern Med. 2013;173(21):1952-1958. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.10081.) One may question how often a coin is used to determine a diagnosis since the coin offers a similar 50% chance of heads or tails.

  5. LFT’S (in lieu of syllables, acronyms also create scholarly appearances) These letters represent Liver Function Tests. These are tests that are commonly ordered since so many people take cholesterol lowering medication. Why are they important? Doctors want to make sure they aren’t damaging your liver with their recommended prescriptions. Should you be concerned? Any time blood is needed for evaluation every 3-6 months to verify the treatment isn’t creating more harm than good, a red flag should be waved. Does the science justify the risk/benefit analysis? Certainly not across the entire population currently taking these medications. How many people do you think are aware that these blood tests are ordered to measure potential liver damage caused by the doctor’s recommendation?

  The next time you go to your doctor, make certain you walk out of their office knowing the following:

  • What is my diagnosis? (in medical terms AND ENGLISH terms!)

  • What are my VARIOUS options? A doctor is required to provide the various options to address the diagnosis. Prescriptive medication is ONLY ONE OPTION. Ask them to provide ALL OPTIONS so you can make a better informed decision.

  • What are the POSSIBLE risks?

  • What is the range in time frame before the condition is corrected? (NOT MERELY STABILIZED)

  • What steps can you (the patient) take outside the doctor’s office to help facilitate the process?

Now that you have a better understanding of medical lingo, don’t be intimidated by the process. You have ALL THE POWER. Remember, we doctors are merely your employees. You can fire us if unsatisfied with our performance. I hope this provides a new perspective on medical terminology as well as the patient/doctor relationship. The more you understand the better chance for a better outcome.

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19 comments

  1. I have LFT every 3 months before my dr will prescribe an NSAID that I take daily. I know what that one was and I have heard Idiopathic way too many times in my life.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s sad that doctors that are supposed to be intelligent have to make their patients feel like they beneath them. I don’t think all doctors are like that but quite a few are.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In most cases I believe all types of doctors work hard to provide quality care for their patients. I believe our teaching institutions are guilty of creating a false sense of superiority. If a doctor is hired by a corporation, the company expects the doctor to follow a certain protocol even if it opposes the doctor’s beliefs. This is not exclusive to the healthcare field; it is true for most large businesses.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. so true and if they don’t follow what is required then they find someone who will. It’s a vicious cycle unfortunately.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for writing this, very informative

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I appreciate your feedback very much. Thank you.

    Like

  5. I Love that you are educating the public….I worked in the medical field for 30 years….and I did take medical terminology…and there is so much wordage, for a better word, that isn’t necessary, I have never understood why they can’t just say warts, or were not sure….and its swollen/inflamed instead of some “itits” diagnosis, after my class it all became so much clearer…and it added to my knowledge base when I dealt with MD’s…it is true they have there own lingo and that’s great but they could tone it down a little and talk with there patients like they have a brain, they don’t need to feel so powerful and “God”like….thank you for caring…….you and your father are in my thoughts…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for all your kind words and thoughts. As the public becomes more aware of these realities, I believe our healthcare professionals will understand the need to change their approach. In my opinion everyone will benefit. Improved outcomes stand a better chance when all parties involved are on the same page.

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  7. WOW! Excellent, unique and informative!! I will bring this list to my doctor the next time I see her, because now, I can translate what she tells me, in English. She’s actually a fine practitioner (oops! there I go acting high and mighty, I should just have said “doctor!”). As a poet, I also appreciate this article very much, because now I can write my haiku just using 3 or 4 words from your list. 😀 Thanks Dr. J!

    Like

    1. Thank you sweet Rose. I appreciate your feedback more than you realize. I’m not sure you want to use my words for your haikus. I have found medical terminology only beneficial for curing insomnia!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I will give doctors the benefit of the doubt and say that I don’t think MOST of them mean to do this. Jargon is present in every profession and sometimes you just take terms that you know for granted. Even in my line of work (marketing communication), I sometimes find myself using terms (and words) that the average person doesn’t know. My brother will tell me that he doesn’t know what I’m saying half the day (but he’s just being a jerk).

    With my doctor, I will simply tell him to explain something a different way if I don’t get it and he’s happy to do so. That’s great that you know a long, strange word to describe what’s happening to me, but what does that actually mean to me and my day to day life? I think people need to be their own advocates and not be intimidated to ask questions. I don’t care if I sound “stupid” because I don’t have a medical degree…and I bet I know lots of things my doctor doesn’t so we’re even 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree, I think most doctors have the best intentions for their patients. I know you have a special relation with yours which is wonderful.
      I do think most people are intimidated and don’t speak up. This is where the breakdown in communication begins in many cases. When I provided oral reports or went over lab or imaging studies I told my patients I was going to get a little summary at the end from THEM. This made them more attentive and made me more confident they understood the situation. The choice for care was up to them. I just wanted to make certain they clearly understood the message I was attempting to convey.
      In some cases it is the doctor with security issues, but this is not a valid reason to talk over anyone’s head. In my opinion respect goes both ways.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Your posts make me feel like I can take control of my health care, instead of leaving it to my doctor to figure it all out on his own. Some of these terms can sound pretty scary.

    Sharing this post with my son and others on FB. He has been treated numerous times for a wart that stubbornly comes back. I don’t think he has tried aspirin, though.

    Like

    1. My posts are just words and ideas. It is your personality and character that makes you feel like you can take control of your health and health care. Fear is a strategy used by many professions to maintain control over people. Realizing that no one will ever care more about your health than you should be empowering and help guide your decision making. You will likely make mistakes along the way, but so does everyone else (including doctors.) This is how we learn, grow and develop.

      Make certain your son talks with a licensed healthcare provider before attempting any method to remove warts. If the provider says it’s safe and appropriate, the aspirin needs to be ground finely and held in place without allowing any air exposure. It must stay dry as well. It typically takes 2-3 weeks and a second application is sometimes required.

      Like

  10. I haven’t been to a doctor since my last physical 2 years ago. I usually go see my chiropractor for things such as when I dislocated my elbow. I know doctors have their uses, but I really only go for routine physicals. Never for when I am sick. I’ve not had much luck with finding one I can trust with my health. My son’s renal specialist was the best “doctor” i’ve come across. The family chiropractor is amazing and I wish there were more like him. He explains things clearly and even gives you his number to call if you have an emergency! Great article. I’ve been thinking about you and the family. I hope all is well. Take care. Koko

    Like

    1. In my opinion, all healthcare professionals have a place that offers great value to their patients. Finding ones that match your personality and needs is the tricky part. Finding doctors in all specialties BEFORE the need arises is crucial. Most people do not think to “shop for doctors” until a problem occurs. I suggest setting up FREE consultations with chiropractors, naturopaths, acupuncturists,cardiologists, neurologists, urologists, gynecologists, gastroenterologists and oncologists. If and when the time arises when these professionals are needed, emotions and lack of clarity may interfere with an individuals best decisions.
      Chiropractors have an added benefit since they focus on health rather than disease care. I believe this form of care is crucial in balancing the nervous system allowing for maximal function of the body. Just like all professions, we have the good, the bad and the ugly.
      Thank you for inquiring about my family situation. Life has gradually returned to a more typical pattern and joy and happiness has accompanied this transition.
      Stay healthy and happy! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree with you having specialist in place is most excellent. I’ve been “shopping”. We fell into this chiropractor when my son played hockey. He was a parent to one of the boys that played with my son. I’ve had many terrible chiropractors. This one is a keeper! Now only if we could duplicate him and his ethics! You ought to do a post on finding all the doctors needed for just in case! Many people need that bit of knowledge. It’s wonderful to hear you and your family’s health and happiness is restoring. I’m slowly making my way but it’s a struggle. Getting outside and soaking up the sun while grounding helps some. Peace to you! Koko:)

        Liked by 1 person

  11. I always end up self-diagnosing because I present with symptoms, then my doctor simply shrugs and attempts to Google the problem because they have no idea. They fail to find any information. I do my own research and find the blindingly obvious cause (in one case, severe vitamin D deficiency) which is then followed by the surgery finally *actually looking at the last 10 blood tests* that confirm the issue. I have a lot of gastrointestinal problems and tried to lightheartedly joke that my doctor (a Procter) was named appropriately. She didn’t get the joke; she did not know what proctology was, nor could she spell. I went for an eye test once and a junior optican was being tested on my anatomy. She did not know what a limbus was, yet I, the unemployed patient, did. She was being paid to be a medical professional, a so-called expert in her field, when a layman like me who only has a GCSE in biology knows more than her. I swear to god every time I use medical terminology thinking that it makes explaining things easier, my doctors just stare at me blankly, yet try to convince me I’m stupid/lying/a hypochondriac because I’m female and an artist. I have been told by a male doctor that arty people and women have ‘a funny way of looking at things’, therefore my self-assessment is invalid. So are my blood glucose readings of >20mmol/360 mg/dl. I have an IQ in the top 2% of the population but I would have expected that doctors would be in this demographic, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Doctors in the health care profession fall in to the same 3 categories as any other profession; the good, the fair and the poor. Unfortunately, it sounds like your radar attracts doctors unable to provide quality services. Glad to see you’re smart enough to recognize the importance of being responsible and researching concerns about your own health.

      Keep searching; you will find good quality doctors willing to listen and work to satisfy the standard of care you seek. It sometimes requires a little time and patience.

      Like

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