9 pieces of medical jargon you might not understand

Patients have expressed a strong desire to see the medical jargon in correspondence between specialists and their GPs translated into plain English, a New Zealand study of 60 outpatients found.

The study at a New Zealand hospital found that patients had a much better understanding of their chronic disease management when discharge letters had medical jargon replaced with plain English.

Almost 80% of patients preferred the translated letter over the original, and 70% said this enhanced their perception of the doctor’s professionalism.

Here are 9 examples of medical terms (“doctor speak”) with their translated plain-English equivalents. How many of the medical terms on the left do you understand?

Original term Translated term
Peripheral oedema Ankle swelling
Echocardiogram Heart ultrasound
Tachycardia Fast heart rate
Ischaemic heart disease Coronary artery disease
Hypertension High blood pressure
Paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnoea Waking at night breathless
Orthopnoea Breathless while lying down
Sub-therapeutic Low-level
Idiopathic Unknown cause

11 March 2016

Michael Woodhead


1. Wernick M, et al. A randomised crossover trial of minimising medical terminology in secondary care correspondence in patients with chronic health conditions: impact on understanding and patient reported outcomes. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/imj.13062/abstract


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