20 Words Never to Use in Health Communication

Without a doubt, Americans’ health habits need to improve.

According to the United Health Foundation, 72 percent of citizens report having at least one unhealthy behavior, while more than 25 million (12 percent) report having multiple unhealthy behaviors.

Unfortunately, much of the health and wellness information that would guide people to living better and managing chronic disease is seriously lacking.

“I’ve spent my career helping health care organizations be better communicators, and I’ve spent the last six years of my life as a patient with a chronic illness. I’m an above-average consumer of health information, and I’ve felt confused, frustrated, scared, ashamed and stupid while trying to navigate our systems and improve my health,” says Carie Sherman, a health communications consultant in Denver, Colo. Sherman has contributed to such organizations as The University of Colorado School of Medicine and The Colorado Trust health equity foundation.

MORE: The Seven Sins of Health Communication

“Being sick and trying to understand and sift through the information about why you’re sick and how to get better makes it even worse.”

Sherman says what’s needed is a push for more communication that is relatable, actionable, easy-to-digest -- and accounts for human behavior. This includes forms that are easy to read, health information sheets that are clear and brochures that use plain language that anyone—no matter what their health background—can understand.

Luckily, developing these materials is a skill that can be learned, according to Sherman. She points to several examples of information that were hard to read and confusing but with some rework can lead to patients understanding provider recommendations and managing chronic disease better.

Sherman provides some guidelines for creating clearer health communication documents in her presentation The Seven Sins of Health Communication, presented in partnership with Talance on May 16 at 10 a.m. Pacific.

Meanwhile, here is a list from Sherman of all-too-common terms that should never be used when communicating health care information to non-medical professionals.

  1. Adhere
  2. Health disparity
  3. Acute
  4. Chronic
  5. Cumulative
  6. Disproportionate
  7. Evidence-based
  8. Feasible
  9. Ambulatory
  10. Incidence rate
  11. Leverage
  12. Localized
  13. Diffuse
  14. Outcomes
  15. Population health
  16. Prevalence
  17. Prolonged
  18. Guidelines
  19. Risk (risk assessment, risk factors, risk management)
  20. Screening
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