by Kevin B. O’Reilly
American Medical Association (AMA) Wire, March 13, 2017
The 56-year-old inpatient is scared and worried. His physician has told him the swelling in his right calf that brought him to the hospital may be caused by an “agent” or “pathogen,” but he is confused. An “agent” sounds like a person, and a “pathogen” sounds like “psychopath.” When the physician returns with the diagnosis, cellulitis, and says it is an “inflammation of the skin and subcutaneous tissues,” the patient is further confused and flummoxed about deciding whether to stay in the hospital for antibiotic treatment or receive a prescription and rest at home. This kind of “medspeak” can get in the way of patients’ sharing decision-making with their physicians and should be avoided. There are some evidence-based methods that help close critical communication gaps.