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Posted on 02.11.2011

A Gentle Reminder to Healthcare Communicators

Listen in on the discussions of almost any peer group and you are likely to hear group-specific dialogue and terminology. Football fans speak of time in the red zone and protection in the pocket. Airline personnel might reference open-jaw tickets and deadhead passengers. Because our firm specializes in healthcare communications, marketing and issues management, our team spends the majority of its time working with healthcare professionals. In the course of any day, we’re in meetings or on the phone with healthcare administrators, marketing directors, risk managers, practice managers, business development professionals or clinical experts. We speak their language. Sometimes while we’re brainstorming with a hospital marketing director about unveiling a new LDRP or NICU in an effort to increase OB volumes, we need to remind the client not to overestimate a healthcare consumer’s ability – or interest – in deciphering this secret code. Whenever I hear myself slipping into healthspeak, I stop and ask, “will my 82-year old mother know what I’m talking about?” A few years ago I quizzed my mother about several common healthcare industry terms and received a sobering reminder about just how irrelevant – and inaccessible – healthcare jargon is to most people. Here is her take on the lingo we speak on a daily basis:
  • A SNF is a health condition that often follows a sneeze.
  • An ED is treatable with a little blue pill.
  • DRG is an abbreviation for something found in a pharmacy.
  • The Joint Commission is a group of military leaders that advise the president.
  • A CON is the opposite of a PRO.
  • “Length of stay” has to do with the duration of a warm weather vacation.
  • “Present” is noun that means gift.
  • The difference between a PPO and PPS is alphabetical order.
  • BCBS is probably something related to the Old Testament.
  • CABG is a main ingredient in slaw.
Fortunately, it is not often that these insider terms make it into ad content or direct mail copy. But it is very common to hear these kinds of expressions in conversations between providers and patients or family members. It’s our job as healthcare communicators to gently remind our clinical and administrative counterparts that we leave patients out of the discussion when we use language that they don’t understand – and really shouldn’t be expected to decipher.

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