The healthcare industry has a language of its own, and according to the U.S. Department of Education, only 12 percent of Americans are proficient in healthcare or medical terminology. Medical terminology allows healthcare providers to fully understand, identify, and treat your conditions. But when the patient does not comprehend orders by their healthcare team, patient safety is endangered.
Medical or healthcare terminology illiteracy creates a communication barrier between you and your healthcare team. The communication barrier prevents you from effectively communicating your perspectives or concerns to your provider or understanding your provider’s feedback.
Misunderstanding your clinical team’s orders can seriously adversely affect your health. If you don’t understand your diagnosis, or treatment plan—including safe use of your medications, or understanding informed consent, discharge instructions, health education materials, the method to retrieve test results, or management of a chronic condition—your efforts to seek healthcare may prove ineffective with hindered health outcomes. The barrier created by medical jargon is substantial and can decenter you from your healthcare.
Healthcare and medical terms are confusing because:
• Information is presented in complex ways
• The use of uncommon terms and phrases
• The healthcare system is not user-friendly
• Receiving medical care is stressful and often entirely unfamiliar
Research shows that when you don’t fully understand your healthcare directives, you are unable to completely act on them, and you are less likely to achieve good health.
With approximately 90 percent of adults struggling in some way with health literacy, the federal government initiated a national effort to increase understandability of health information. Also, healthcare professionals are shifting toward speaking more transparently in plain language to improve health outcomes.
Healthcare Delivery Patient-Centered Care Initiative
Effective patient-physician communication is crucial to the success of your healthcare. There is a new emphasis on healthcare communication skills training. Research shows that patient health outcomes improve when the patient-provider communication barrier is reduced. Healthcare teams are striving to speak to patients in plain and understandable language including using analogies, images, drawings, and requesting patients to repeat the providers instructions.
Healthcare at Home
Patient-centered healthcare will help your understanding while you are with a medical professional. But after your visit with your clinical team, much of your healthcare implementation is spent on your own at home. To achieve a good health outcome, while you are home you will need to be able to understand numerous other documents filled with medical jargon such as:
• Medical education materials
• Treatment plans
• Medication labels and instructions
• Medical records
• Medical bills
Medical bills are riddled with healthcare jargon, medical codes, and insurance adjustments. Research shows that more than 50 percent of Americans find medical bills hard to understand.
HIPAA allows you to have access to your medical records. But access to your medical records does not benefit your life if you cannot understand and apply the information usefully.
By understanding medical terms and charts you can better understand the numerous documents associated with healthcare. Access to your medical records can become an asset by eliminating worry and confusion. Accurately interpreting your medical bills will enable you to identify erroneous medical charges.
Take Control of Your Health
Understanding healthcare jargon is imperative for effective patient-physician communication, health treatment adherence, healthcare education, and for you to become an empowered patient.
By choosing to understand medical and healthcare jargon, you will be able to:
• Understand and manage your conditions
• Recognize health risk
• Comprehend complex medical terms
• Make appropriate health decisions
• Navigate the healthcare system
• Fill out medical forms
• Interpret healthcare documents
• Share information with your provider
Your non-compliance as a patient may be due to illiteracy of health information. Do not allow your health conditions to worsen. Take control of your health status, outcome, and costs. Become health literate to navigate the complex healthcare system, and best manage your health.