Improving Communication in Healthcare via a Pragmatic Patient Medical Glossary
October 8, 2013
Written by: Victor E. Battles, M.D.
A glossary of common medical terms can be a valuable patient- empowerment resource for improving communication
in healthcare and increasing health literacy. It can also be a catalyst for quality improvement in healthcare.
A patient-empowerment medical glossary is pragmatic only if it contains definitions of the most commonly
encountered medical terminology with additional basic information written and organized in a way in which a person
without formal medical training or a medical background can understand. The knowledge derived from reviewing the
information can be a foundation for establishing health literacy in behalf of the person who uses it, as well as
indirectly for associates of that person, such as loved ones.
The glossary can be used as a knowledge base or reference. In using it as a knowledge base it is practical to
browse through it in its entirety since it will contain information about some of the most common medical
conditions which a patient may have or is likely to develop in the future. Additionally, the knowledge gained might
be of benefit to family members or other loved ones. In browsing through the glossary particular focus can be made
on terms recognized, perhaps from superbills, drug prescription labels, conversations in the doctor's office, or a
review of a patient health record. Utilization of the glossary as a knowledge base establishes relevant health
literacy and can serve as a springboard for achieving greater degrees of health literacy.
Using the medical glossary as a reference is an excellent patient- empowerment tool to prepare patients for
doctor visits and to achieve quality improvement in healthcare. A search for relevant terminology can result in
answers to questions prior to a visit, a better understanding of information and/or instructions given during a
visit, and pertinent questions to ask a doctor during a visit. Additionally, informed doctor questions
oftentimes kindle increased interest in patient education on the part of physicians and their staff. Use of the
glossary as a reference following doctor visits can reinforce one's understanding of the treatment plan, and thus
improve treatment adherence and healthcare outcomes.
The use of a pragmatic medical glossary, both as a knowledge base and a reference, in addition to facilitating
quality improvement in healthcare, can help to minimize the communications-in-healthcare problems that are so
prevalent in today's healthcare setting. All too often physicians attempt to communicate using complicated
medical jargon totally foreign to patients. At other times they don't attempt to explain anything at all, assuming
that the patients will not understand anyway. The net result of either scenario is patients with poor
understandings of their medical histories, oftentimes most manifest when others involved in their healthcare need
critical answers to pertinent questions.
Because of the relationship between health literacy, communication in healthcare and quality improvement in
health care, the use of a pragmatic health glossary as a patient-empowerment-tool is essential.
Source: Proactive Health
Victor E. Battles, M.D. is a board-certified internist with 30 + years of patient contact. Dr. Battles has
been a principal investigator in several clinical research trials and is the founder of Proactive Health
Outlet, a patient empowerment website for increasing health literacy and promoting patient engagement.