Mind & Body
Decoding Your Doctor’s Language
4/2/2018 10:46:44 PM
Decode Your Doc

Doctors have a reputation for having horrible handwriting. But whether there’s any truth to that old stereotype may not matter much, as the large majority of prescriptions these days are electronic rather than handwritten.

Doctors’ oral communication skills, on the other hand, are terribly important. Day in and day out, they communicate with patients, explaining diagnoses, treatment options, and potential side effects.

Many doctors are great at this. Others, though, go heavy on the medical terminology and light on the plain language. For patients who are up to speed on medical terms — those who work in the health care field themselves, for example — this is probably no big deal. But for everyone else, doctor speak can be confusing and even scary.

In addition, research has shown that a large proportion of people have limited health literacy, which means their ability to read and understand health information is low. This is associated with worse health outcomes and decreased use  of health care services. That makes doctors’ ability to explain things in terms their patients can understand even more critical.

If you’ve ever had trouble decoding your doctor’s language, here are some tips to help:

Ask questions. 

Don’t be embarrassed if you don’t know or understand something. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask your doctor to clarify or repeat things or to explain something differently. You might find it helpful to tell the doctor, in your words, your interpretation of what he or she has told you. "So, what you’re saying is . . . ”

Take notes. 

Bring a pen and paper with you or use your smartphone. Write down what your doctor tells you so that you can review the information later. Have your doctor spell out terms you’re unfamiliar with so you can record the names correctly. If your doctor is talking too fast for you to take decent notes, ask him or her to pause or slow down. Review your notes after you leave the office; if you’re confused about anything or think of questions, you can call. In addition, if you take good notes, you won’t have to worry about forgetting everything your doctor said. If possible, take someone along with you who can take notes for you and help you remember what the doctor said. Even better, bring along someone who has a healthcare background and understands medical jargon.

Look up medical terms on your own. 

The MedlinePlus website from the U.S. National Library of Medicine is a great place to start. It contains comprehensive, easy-to-understand information about diseases, conditions,  medications, surgeries, and other health topics. Simply use the search bar at the top of the page. If you use other sites, though, be sure they are credible. Government agencies, universities, national medical groups such as the American Medical Association, and well-known organizations like the American Heart Association are good options. But do be careful: A simple Google search can pull up sites from groups with credible-sounding names that are actually spreading false information.

No matter what steps you take to decode your doctor’s language, remember that your health — and your family’s — is worth the effort.
Posted by: Andrea Mongler | Submit comment | Tell a friend

Categories: Health

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