Blog | Tuesday, September 24, 2013

What not to call patients

There are many words that doctors have used for patients that we shouldn’t use anymore. Realizing the inappropriateness of such terminology does not require much heavy lifting, and, yet, we are still using these epithets time and time again. I thought I’d give some examples, if only to get them off my chest.

1. Non-compliant: As if the patient is supposed to be a good, obedient servant, following the doctor’s orders, turning neither to the right nor the left.

2. Denying: [“The patient denies chest pain, shortness of breath ...”]: As if these are accusations, and the patient is protesting their innocence.

3. Difficult: Like a problem or a disease, the difficult patient is meant to be solved, not helped.

4. Suffering from “pseudoseizures”: If a patient has a non-epileptic, or psychogenic, seizure, there is little that’s “pseudo” about it.

5. Uncontrolled diabetic: Again, the one-dimensional assessment. There is diabetes, a disease, to be controlled, but then, by metonymy, the patient becomes their disease.

What words can’t you stand when they are used to describe you, or your patients?

Zackary Berger, MD, ACP Member, is a primary care doctor and general internist in the Division of General Internal Medicine at Johns Hopkins. His research interests include doctor-patient communication, bioethics, and systematic reviews. He is also a poet, journalist and translator in Yiddish and English. This post originally appeared at his blog.