Medical jargon is confusing for non-doctors

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MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL (10/13/2022) – Published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine, University of Minnesota Medical School researchers examined whether the general public understands the medical jargon doctors typically use in their presentations to patients . They found that specialty names and seniority titles are sources of misunderstanding.

“Lingo is ubiquitous in medicine, and the potential for misunderstandings from this terminology begins the moment doctors introduce themselves to patients,” said Emily Hause, MD, MPH, pediatric rheumatology fellow at U of M Medical School. . “We have found that most people cannot define specialty names or correctly classify medical seniority titles. Physicians should describe their medical specialty and their role on the patient’s care team in plain language to help reduce this potential source of confusion.

Volunteer attendees at the 2021 Minnesota State Fair completed an electronic survey that measured their knowledge of medical specialties and titles. Of the 14 specialties included in the survey, six specialties were correctly defined by less than half of the respondents:

  • Neonatologists: 48%
  • Pulmonologists: 43%
  • Hospital workers: 31%
  • Intensivists: 29%
  • Internists: 21%
  • Nephrologists: 20%

When asked to rank medical roles, only 12% of participants correctly ranked these titles in order: medical student, intern, senior resident, fellow, and tenured.

Further research is suggested to probe knowledge of additional specialties and obtain more demographic information.

This research was supported by grant UL1TR002494 from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health. Funding was also provided by the University of Minnesota’s Driven to Discover grant.

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