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Babel Babble: Physicians' Use of Unclarified Medical Jargon with Patients

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Objective : To describe physicians use of jargon with diabetes patients with limited health literacy.

Methods : We audiotaped 74 outpatient encounters and coded unclarified jargon, assigning each term a clinical function. We administered telephone questionnaires to determine if comprehension of diabetes-related jargon varied with context.

Results : Eighty-one percent of encounters contained at least one unclarified jargon term (mean of 4/visit). Thirty-seven percent of jargon use occurred when making recommendations, and 29% when providing health education. Patient comprehension rates were generally low and never reached adequate thresholds.

Conclusion : Physicians caring for patients with limited health literacy employ unclarified jargon during key clinical functions.
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Keywords: communication; diabetes mellitus; health literacy; jargon

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 2007

More about this publication?
  • The American Journal of Health Behavior seeks to improve the quality of life through multidisciplinary health efforts in fostering a better understanding of the multidimensional nature of both individuals and social systems as they relate to health behaviors.

    The Journal aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the impact of personal attributes, personality characteristics, behavior patterns, social structure, and processes on health maintenance, health restoration, and health improvement; to disseminate knowledge of holistic, multidisciplinary approaches to designing and implementing effective health programs; and to showcase health behavior analysis skills that have been proven to affect health improvement and recovery.

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