Stories about: medical jargon

Doc talk: Reducing medical jargon to improve care

by Sarah Teasdale, MD

“Don’t say febrile to me!”  My sister yelled from the other end of the phone.  “Don’t use doctor talk. I just want to know I need to take her to the emergency room.”

She was at home with her 4-year-old who had a sore throat and was throwing up.  I could hear my niece retching in the background, the dog was barking and her infant son crying.  My sister was worried and needed reassurance.  I was in medical mode, speaking in technical terms:  ‘Is she febrile?  Is the emesis bloody or bilious?  Any sick contacts?”  I was making her more nervous.  A dish fell to the floor on the other end of the phone and my sister sighed.  “I’m just going to call mom.”  She hung up.

My sister has plenty of education, and as a journalist she has a large vocabulary.  She knows what the word “febrile” means, but she wanted me to say “fever.” She wanted the clearest possible language because, in the middle of all the vomiting, crying and barking, she had no time to focus on translation.

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