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Warning – jargon can be bad for your health

If you’ve been in a hospital lately, you’d be forgiven for thinking that some of the staff were speaking another language. Terms such as “chronicity”, “needs matrix” and “action plans” can all leave patients – sorry “service users” – scratching their heads.

In fact, even doctors and nurses can be confused by management gobbledegook such as “integrated commissioning”, “pump-priming” and “disinvestments” in official documents.

Picture by Vic
Doctor, could you translate that into Plain English? – Picture by Vic

The increasing use of medical jargon isn’t just annoying, it can actually have serious effects on patient care, according to Conor Farrington, a research associate at the Cambridge Centre for Health Services Research at the University of Cambridge.

Writing for the Guardian, he says too many patients are struggling to understand what their doctors, leaflets, or letters are telling them about medicines or treatments, with important messages getting lost in translation:

“The potential for misunderstanding is enormous, especially for disadvantaged sectors of the population with low digital and health literacy levels. This not only makes it more challenging for patients to communicate their own concerns and perspectives, but can also – and often does – lead to serious adverse consequences for their health.”


Read his full article here. And if you’ve come across your own examples of baffling medical jargon, why not let us know or share them on Twitter with the hashtag #nhsjargon.

Hazel Mollison

Hazel Mollison edits and writes for the Lingo24 blog. After studying Italian and German at Cambridge University, she worked as a journalist for five years with regional and national newspapers. She enjoys writing about languages, translation, online marketing, and helping small businesses explore new opportunities.

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