Two interesting articles from CBC on literacy and vocabulary

Friday, April 25, 2008

Interestingly enough CBC had two articles related to languages today. The first one is no surprise and is what I and others on Auxlang have known for a long time:

Complicated medical lingo can confuse patients

Using complicated medical jargon can be confusing, anxiety inducing and potentially dangerous for patients, a new study found.

The research, the focus of this week's editorial in the Lancet, finds that when doctors speak to their patients using the terminology they learned in medical school, patients can fail to identify what it is that's being said, be confused about their diagnosis or incorrectly interpret their condition.

According to health experts, the confusion can happen very easily.

"There are words that sound the same, like hypo and hyper," Dr. Peter Lin, a Toronto-based general practitioner, told CBC News Thursday. It would be very easy for a patient to hear the opposite of what was said by a physician, leading to an incorrectly interpreted diagnosis, he said.

While "hypo" means something is under, or below, normal, "hyper" means something is high, or elevated.

Even seemingly straightforward phrases like "benign," which means something is not life-threatening, can be problematic, Lin said.

"Let's say I tell a patient, 'You have a benign lesion on your liver.'" The person might only hear the words "lesion" and "liver," and assume they have a dire condition, he said.

"Imagine the anxiety there would be around that."

Doctors often forget that the medical jargon they use daily in conversations with colleagues usually isn't well-understood by the general public, Lin said.

"It's actually a different language that we're learning," said Lin. "When we study that all day long, we forget that the person that we're talking to has never studied that language."

In the comments below I couldn't resist adding a plug for Ido and LsF. Here's what I wrote:

The problem here is actually a simple one:

English spent a long time borrowing vocabulary from Latin...

and then people stopped learning Latin. As a result we have thousands of loanwords in the language that nobody understands anymore.

The solution is then:
1) To remove the loanwords from the language (turning words like constitution into English-derived ones like groundlaw for example)
2) Reviving Latin,
3) Using a constructed language based on or more similar to Latin, like Latino sine Flexione or Ido.

The second article is about literacy and lifespan. It seems that those that are more literate are apt to live longer. Here's the article.

Older people who can't read have a greater chance of dying, including from cardiovascular disease, a U.S. study released Monday suggests.

The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, investigated 3,260 U.S. patients over 65 who were on medicare. It indicates that older adults with low literacy levels had a 50 per cent higher mortality rate compared to seniors with better literacy skills.

"The excess number of deaths among people with low literacy was huge. The magnitude of this shocked us," lead author Dr. David Baker, who worked on study with his colleagues from Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a news release.

..."There are several possible mechanisms by which the association between literacy and mortality might occur," the study says. "Inadequate health literacy is associated with less knowledge of chronic disease and worse self-management skills for patients with hypertension, diabetes mellitus, asthma and heart failure."

Baker said: "When patients can't read, they are not able to do the things necessary to stay healthy. They don't know how to take their medications correctly, they don't understand when to seek medical care, and they don't know how to care for their diseases."

Baker added that more plain language is needed.

"We're not talking about dumbing down material. We're talking about using simple language the average person would understand."

He said he would like to banish medical jargon and simplify language, for example, saying "sugar" instead of "glucose" when discussing diabetes.


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