Babel babble: physicians' use of unclarified medical jargon with patients

Am J Health Behav. Sep-Oct 2007;31 Suppl 1:S85-95. doi: 10.5555/ajhb.2007.31.supp.S85.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Communication*
  • Diabetes Mellitus / therapy
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Education as Topic
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires