Blog | Friday, December 12, 2008

Careful what you say...and how you say it

Patients get more anxious when you use the medical terms for conditions and diseases than the lay terms, a new study in PLoS Medicine finds.

When study subjects were given the medical term for a condition-- like "erectile dysfunction"-- the condition was perceived as being more severe, more apt to be a disease, and more rare, than when they were given a layperson's label--like impotence, a press release said.

Here's the thing: the effect was only seen with terms that have been "medicalized" in the last ten years, like "hyperhidrosis" for excessive sweatiness. Medical terms that have been around for awhile, like "hypertension", didn't make patients more nervous.

If a patient thinks her disease is more serious if you say "GERD" than "heartburn," it may affect how seriously she takes care of her health in relation to that condition, one of the authors said. So choose your words wisely.