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  • Writer's pictureNick Lamb, PhD

Decoding Medical Jargon: A Guide for Patients and Carers

Updated: Mar 30, 2023

Navigating the world of healthcare can be a daunting task, especially when confronted with an array of medical terms, abbreviations, and acronyms that seem to form a language of their own. As a medical writer with two decades of experience, I appreciate the importance of clear communication. In this blog, I'll share some essential medical terminology and provide tips to help patients and carers better understand the jargon and effectively communicate with healthcare professionals (HCPs).

Breaking Down Common Medical Terms Let's begin by demystifying some of the most common medical terms and phrases that patients and carers are likely to encounter:

  1. Acute vs. chronic: Acute conditions come on suddenly and often require immediate attention, while chronic conditions are long-lasting and may require ongoing management.

  2. Diagnosis: A diagnosis is the identification of a specific illness or condition, often determined after a series of tests and examinations.

  3. Prognosis: Prognosis refers to the likely outcome or course of a disease, taking into account the individual's unique circumstances and the available treatments.

  4. Prescription: A prescription is a healthcare professional's written instruction for a specific medication, including the dosage, frequency, and duration of treatment.

  5. Over-the-counter (OTC): Over-the-counter medications can be purchased without a prescription and are typically used to treat minor ailments or symptoms.

Asking Questions and Seeking Clarification Now that we've covered some fundamental medical terminology, let's discuss how patients and carers can actively engage with HCPs to gain a better understanding of their medical situation:

  1. Don't be afraid to ask questions: It's essential to speak up if you don't understand a term or an explanation. HCPs are there to help you, and they won't mind taking the time to ensure you have a clear understanding of your situation.

  2. Request simpler language: If an HCP is using complex medical jargon, kindly ask them to explain the term or concept in simpler, everyday language.

  3. Take notes: During consultations or discussions with your doctor, it may be helpful to take notes or have a caregiver take notes for you. This can be an useful when trying to recall specific details or explanations later on.

  4. Use reliable resources: If you encounter medical jargon that you'd like to explore further, be sure to use reputable sources, such as official health organisation websites or well-established medical dictionaries. This will help ensure the information you find is accurate and up-to-date.

  5. Bring a trusted friend or family member: Having someone else present during medical appointments can provide emotional support and help you remember and understand the information discussed.

Understanding medical jargon is a vital part of navigating the healthcare system and advocating for your own or a loved one's health. By familiarising yourself with essential terminology, asking questions, and seeking clarification when needed, you can help bridge the communication gap and ensure you're well-equipped to make informed decisions about your healthcare.


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