For decades, research papers and reports have been written using sophisticated and complex words. It’s difficult for regular people to understand fully the meaning of these content. Many research papers and reports related to healthcare, too, often use a lot of (and heavy) medical jargon in its written contents.

Medical jargon is an outdated language

Recently, it has been discovered that the antiquated lexicon which radiologists use to summarise their reports are too confusing for patients, who access their reports on health system portals.

To avoid creating havoc and panic among patients, medical practitioners have taken a serious look at the way things are written and presented. Hence, they are requesting a more ‘standardised’ way of reporting with greater clarity from all those involved, as far as medical reports (papers) go.

Even radiologists seem to agree that this is the right way to go. Dr Jennifer Kemp, a diagnostic radiologist, expresses that even though the change is going to be hard on her –= and that she has to think twice before speaking.

Dr Kemp had a close experience in this situation when her husband became a cancer patient and had difficulty understanding the medical jargons in his reports. While it was something that Dr Kemp couldn’t relate to, she did realise that something needs to be done to make the reports easier for patients to understand.

Recalling the incident, Dr Kemp says, “I was absolutely shocked that the terms that I had grown so accustomed to were phrases that my husband found confusing and sometimes alarming.” When Dr Kemp tried explaining to her husband, she only made him more confused and dumbfounded.

Modernising the interpretation of scientific content

Dr Kemp reminisces about the time she trained in radiology 18 years ago; and there was no mention about the phrases or words used. Back then, she said, the idea to change the verbiage of radiologists made no sense.

Echoing agreement, Dr Andrew J. Gunn, from the University of Alabama Birmingham, mentions how even some radiologists might not know the meaning of some of the terms they use in their reports.

Dr Gunn is one of an emerging number of academicians and in 2016, he conducted a study on physicians' understanding of 10 common "modifying" terms in radiology reports. Dr Gunn explains that some phrasing used in radiology reports are universally understood among radiologists.

Though, that doesn’t change the fact that there’s a huge disconnect in what radiologists are saying and what patients are understanding. He adds that this is and could be the cause of increased risks for error and confusion.

Dr Gunn is aware that patients feel the language used in their radiology reporting is overly technical or confusing. He adds that the report should be simple, clear, and obvious – to avoid patients showing up in their doctor's offices in tears “because they understood something else.”

In June 2015, Dr Jenny Hoang, a neuroradiologist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, said, "Radiology reports should be direct, unambiguous, and factual. Medical terms should be used only when necessary. Obfuscating jargon should be eliminated."

Jargoning their way out

Scientists have also hopped on this bandwagon by writing a paper about writing papers, which is centred on Ingredient X. Ingredient X is what is missing in scientific-written content, which is simply put: creativity and clarity.

This paper also explains why and how scientists are programmed to write the way they do. The scientists, responsible for this paper, are promoting the ways that writers of medical papers and reports can compose their content.

According to them, even scientists sometimes have no idea what a research paper is about. Therefore, if scientists themselves have trouble understanding the content of the paper – it is plausible why the common men find difficulty in understanding a medical content.

These scientists suggest that the best way to write medical content – that is clear and understood by everyone – is to think about the reader, who is going to read their content. They agree that better writing skills are important to ensure the purpose of the content is highlighted.

Other suggestions include rewarding good writing and encouraging scientists to read more in order to write more – and better. Good writing should be valued in a way that it is rewarded and those who write should feel (appreciate) the importance of good writing.

While waiting for the language of scientists and radiologists to change, a new free online tool, De-Jargonizer, is available to help people understand and identify the technical language used in the medical jargon content.

Known as the brainchild of Ayelet Baram-Tsabari, an associate professor at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, the De-Jargonizer was created to help scientists communicate with better, and more clearly with the people outside their field of expertise. Since she has worked as a science journalist previously, she understood how scientists function in terms of their writing, which is why she came up with this tool to help both the scientists and readers. MIMS

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