Choose Your Words Wisely: Linguistic Pitfalls Can Disrupt Patient Care

February 5, 2018 | Strategic Insights for Ambulatory Care


​"The words we use matter," says the author of the essay, "The Things We Say," published in the January 23/30, 2018, issue of JAMA. When doctors know how to use language precisely and compassionately and take the time do so, they increase their chances of having stronger relationships with patients and of providing more thorough, effective, or accurate treatment. The author recounts incidents in which he perceived his patients lost confidence in his abilities: once, when the electronic health record (EHR) was filled out to indicate the patient's main concern was chest pain, but in actuality, the patient was seeing a doctor because of pain in his toe; and another set of events during which he was met with contempt or anger for expressing that he understood how the patient's family members felt when the family members seemed to feel he was lacking compassion. Other sources of linguistic pitfalls are more systematic in nature, according to the author. Patients who are unable or unwilling for whatever reason to provide information about their condition are often called "poor historians," he says.

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