Remember those Charlie Brown episodes where he’s listening to his teacher’s lecture, but all he hears is “wah wah” (a.k.a. unintelligible nonsense)?
The scene, which was a portrayal of the way a child might hear an adult, is referenced frequently in GIFs, television shows, and everyday conversations. What’s more, it may be more applicable to the real world than the writers ever thought.
The “wah wah” sound, which is actually just the sound of a trumpet playing, doesn’t just highlight how poor, bored Charlie doesn’t understand his teacher. It shows that he never even stops to clarify what his teacher is saying.
Whether they’re teacher-student, parent-child, or husband-wife, miscommunications are everywhere. And while they may be frustrating, they’re mostly harmless.
But when the miscommunication comes from a healthcare provider to a patient, the result is not only aggravating but also dangerous.
Medical terminology is a major factor in this confusion. And in the age of the internet, these risky miscommunications can go far beyond the walls of the office.
Whether in blog posts, newsletters, or patient portals, if your communication is chock-full of medical jargon, not only are patients going to immediately tune out — but it can also put their health at risk.
Here’s why you should stop using medical jargon on your healthcare website and what you should do instead.
Too Much Jargon Equals Not Enough Reading
No matter the topic, getting your intended audience to read in the first place can be a challenge. One study found that only 20% of readers finish an online article, and the average visitor reads a mere 25% of the entire article.
Add medical jargon into the mix, and patients and potential patients are going to steer clear of your content. Filling your blog posts with terms like “metastasis” and “lymph node” — which studies have shown are unknown by most of your readers — are going to drive patients far, far away.
Even if readers do attempt to decipher your medical speak, they’re either going to leave your website to do so (and potentially never come back) or just stop reading altogether.
Plus, Americans have a minimal attention span at best. One study puts our ability to pay attention at 8 seconds — meaning your patients aren’t going to get far if they’re bored or confused by words like “sternutate” (which really just means to sneeze).
One possible reason for Americans’ easily-exhausted attention spans is that there’s a lot of content out there — and readers are constantly seeking the next best thing.
When it comes to medical content, you have many competitors, including other healthcare organizations and medical websites. You can bet that everyone else is finding ways to cater to readers’ attention spans, and if you stick fancy terms into your content that readers don’t understand, you’re going to lose the competition.
The Real Dangers Of Health-Related Miscommunication
Communicating with your patients online offers a new way to provide valid and helpful medical information beyond the walls of the office. But if they’re never even reading it, it loses all potential benefits of your patients taking their health and well-being into their own hands.
For instance, a heart health article that uses “angina” instead of “chest pain,” or “atrial fibrillation” without ever defining it, will leave readers with zero takeaways. Unless you count frustration.
Words don’t even need to be very technical to confuse — and endanger — your patients. One seemingly simple term you might use is “chronic,” which medical professionals know to mean persisting or constantly recurring.
However, a common alternative understanding of the word is severe, which is a completely different symptom. This can lead patients to misunderstand when they actually need to seek medical help because they simply don’t know what the word means.
Even if communication is one-on-one, like in a patient portal, there’s also a risk of confusion. If you send test results to a patient electronically, they may completely misinterpret them if they’re full of medical jargon.
For instance, over 30% of patients don’t know what the term “benign” means. So, a result summary of a “benign tumor” could lead a patient to think their results are much more serious than they really are.
Every healthcare provider knows the benefits of communication. It can play a significant role in how patients monitor their own health, follow directions, and even trust their provider.
But let’s keep the medical jargon to the break room — and talk to patients in a way that can help them engage with the content that’s important to them.