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June 2022

Medical language needs to change



Medical language that casts doubt, belittles, or blames patients for their health problems continues to be commonly used in everyday clinical practice, but is outdated and overdue for change, argue experts in The BMJ.

Caitríona Cox and Zoë Fritz at the University of Cambridge say such language can insidiously affect the therapeutic relationship by altering the attitudes of both patients and clinicians, and should be changed to foster a relationship focused on shared understanding and collective goals.

Language that belittles patients includes the widely used term ‘presenting complaint’ rather than referring to a patient’s reason for engaging with healthcare, they write. The authors note that much of the language commonly used in practice is used unthinkingly. Clinicians should consider how their language affects attitudes and choose words that facilitate trust, balance power, and support shared decision making.

Cox C, Fritz Z. BMJ 2022;357:e066720

Practice Nurse 2022;52(5):7