Doctor Speak: Disconnected Communication

It is generally agreed that the language of medicine was first Greek and then Latin. Today, in spite of doctor’s speaking to patients in their native tongue, the language of medicine might as well still be Greek. It is the rare lay person that knows their hippocampus from their gluteus maximus. And while most doctors don’t speak Greek or Latin, too often the names of body parts, diseases, and treatments make it difficult for doctors to explain things simply to patients. This leads to a big gap between what the doctor knows and what the patient understands.

This disparity ultimately begins with a knowledge difference. Doctors are not necessarily smarter than lay people; they just know and deal with things that are generally unfamiliar or uninteresting to people. If it is Escherichia coli causing infection in the bladder is of great interest to the doctor. The lay person only cares if it burns when they pee. To further disconnect the two, just add the name of the prescribed treatment drug to the conversation.

Another reason – rarely discussed – for disconnect in patient doctor communications is payment. Doctors do not get paid for explaining things to patients. Sure, they care about their patients, but they get paid for diagnosing and treating their patients, not talking to them. When they submit their bills to insurers, and the federal government, there aren’t any billable codes for “explained vertigo diagnosis to patient for 10 minutes”. There is a billable code for “vertigo”.

Like traveling in a foreign country, not understanding the language of medicine can be everything from embarrassing to dangerous. When it comes to one’s health, that lack of clear understanding can lead to poor health outcomes, unnecessary return visits and increased cost. While foreign languages can be translated with an app on a smartphone, doctors often are still explaining “foreign” things with nothing more than a pen and paper. It is time that doctor speak enters the 21st century.  The medical community needs to utilize modern technology, video, graphics, and animations to help patients better understand what ails them and how to fix it.