Medicine is a powerful tool, but the language used in tandem with it to convey meaning is also significant. Research has shown that doctor-patient communication is extremely important and that the language used by practitioners can have a great influence on patients’ perception.

Here we look at the possible words or language that could potentially be perceived as insensitive to patients, and the alternatives that could be used instead.

1. Superlatives

This constitutes words such as “cure”, “miracle”, “game changer”, “breakthrough” and “revolutionary”. Often used to describe medicine such as cancer drugs, these words give people the false impression that they are potent and will surely work.

In reality, however, this may not be the case. Researchers from Cleveland, Ohio ran a Google check that found that as many as 97 superlatives were used to describe 36 cancer drugs that were being announced at different points of time. The catch is that half the drugs had not even been approved for consumption yet, and 14% had not even been tested on humans.

Hence, the next time a drug is being described to patients, healthcare practitioners can make it a point to cut to the chase and focus instead on its medicinal properties and how it can alleviate their problems.

2. “Committed” suicide

Mental health issues have long been a taboo to talk about, and suicide is no exception. Pamela Wible, an American physician, argues that saying someone has “committed” suicide frames it as a crime, when the person was, in actual fact, facing problems coping with their mental health.

Suicide is a medical condition, not a crime. The more sensitive way to describe it would be to say that someone has “died of suicide” or “died by suicide”. While the difference may be a subtle one, but it certainly goes a long way, especially where family and friends of the deceased are concerned.

3. Saying someone “is” bipolar

Similarly, Wible also argues that saying someone “is” bipolar or “is” an addict is not the way to go. She argues that “people are people first” and that having a mental health condition such as bipolar disorder should not be something that is attributed to one’s identity.

Just as healthcare professional would not say that someone “is” pneumonia, heart disease or an infection, the more accurate way would be to say that someone “has” bipolar disorder or an addiction.

4. “Stigma”

The usage of the word “stigma” is somewhat ironic, as it is often used in tandem with words like “prevent” and “stop” to encourage the public to change their beliefs about people with, say, mental health conditions. Yet, doing so actually buys into the very concepts that users are trying to challenge. Thus, it frames and reinforces these conditions or illnesses as a stigma instead.

What can be done is to focus on the sentiments and discrimination that people have – the bigotry – instead of the patients. MIMS

Read more:
Communicating with cancer patients using tact
Healthcare professionals: 4 non-verbal ways of communication that you should be using with your patients
4 communication errors that should be avoided in any medical practice