Addressing the Jargon of Health Care

Melissa Simon, MD, and member of the Women’s Health Research Institute’s Leadership Council wrote a powerful opinion piece about the language and socio-economic barriers in health care. Dr. Simon cites a recent case involving 16-year-old Ethan Couch’s lenient sentence for his crime of killing four and injuring two in a drunk driving accident by claiming “affluenza.” What was argued in court was that Couch’s “doting, wealth parents infected their son with irresponsibility,” which is a flimsy case, a blatant misuse of medical terminology, and another example of absolving the wealthy for their infractions. Dr. Simon uses this case to testify that language has created injustices and disparities in all facets of life, particularly, in the world of health care.

People must effectively understand information about their health, and physicians must effectively communicate this information. The influx of patient navigators, Dr. Simon says, is a clear sign that effective health communication is needed. The heavy health care jargon alienates low-income patients and can lead to costly or harmful effects if proper care is misunderstood. The wealthy have improved access to health care via, in part, their understanding of this health care vocabulary. This further perpetuates class differences and the inequality gap expands in American health care.

Moving forward, Dr. Simon says, we must facilitate mutual respect between the rich and the poor. This can be done by (1) reevaluating the language used to describe these different classes; (2) having political leaders demonstrate ways to unite the rich and the poor through language; and (3) ensuring that all patients have access to non-jargon-laden health information.

Source: TPM Cafe