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What's That In English, Doc?

"I need a sigmoidoscopy but I didn't even know I had a sigmoid!" Sure, I can look it up when I get home, but that's not the point. Why do doctors speak in medical jargon? Can't they talk to me in English? 

The reasons for medical terminology go back centuries. Higher learning used to require Greek and Latin because that's where most of the terms come from. They refer specifically to anatomy, physiology and treatments. But there's also a social purpose, professionalism.  Medical people use these terms to distinguish themselves from us non-medical folks. Your instincts are correct. It's a little like a club with a secret language. Once they learn the language, it becomes second nature and often they don't even realize they're doing it.

The doctor used to have all of the power in the relationship and you, the patient were supposed to obey without question. But now, we're working toward physician-patient partnerships. This means that your doctor is obligated to explain his findings so that you understand your situation and the two of you should be making treatment decisions together. 

But this is one area where policy-makers are ahead of actual practice. What happens in your doctor's office is a far cry from what is supposed to be happening, isn't it? Depending on your relationship with your provider, you can ask them to slow down and you can ask questions until you are satisfied that you understand and agree with the treatment plan. But more often than not, they say stuff you don't fully understand and are too rushed to explain it.

If you know someone fluent in medical terminology who can accompany you to your doctor's visit, it can make a tremendous difference. Not only do you have someone who can help you remember what is said, but you'll see your provider's attitude shift. Those extra pairs of eyes and ears bear witness to the events. Deep in their consciences, providers know they are supposed to explain everything to you, it's just quicker and easier if they don't. Your friend seems to bring this awareness to the forefront, ahem.

If you don't know anyone who can go to the doctor with you, you might consider bringing a patient advocate. A good advocate will help you prepare for your visit and support you through the visit. However, they are there to empower you, so you should be prepared to do most of the talking. The advocate will pipe up if something's overlooked.

I'm a patient advocate and I'm here to help.

(Dale Alexander holds a Certificate in Patient Advocacy from UCLA, a Master's in Medical Humanities from UT and 30 years of experience in healthcare delivery, education and management. She can be reached at 707.319.5856 or dale5657@gmail.com.)   

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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