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Do radiation therapists confuse patients with medical jargon?

The complexity and specialised nature of technical medical terminology, or jargon, can be easily misunderstood or misconstrued by patients, especially so when anxiety about the need for radiation therapy to treat cancer may compromise the patient's concentration.
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The complexity and specialised nature of technical medical terminology, or jargon, can be easily misunderstood or misconstrued by patients, especially so when anxiety about the need for radiation therapy to treat cancer may compromise the patient's concentration.

A study in Australia explored the communication styles and use of medical jargon in consultations between patients and radiation therapists during treatment instruction and emotional support sessions given on the first day of treatment.

Fifty-eight patients and ten radiation therapists participated in the study, where the psycho-education interview/dialogue was recorded and the frequency and type of jargon documented and quantified. A qualitative analysis was undertaken, where the transcripts were examined to explore how patients expressed their apprehensions and the therapists sought an explanation of those concerns.

Simpler language

A third

...

The complexity and specialised nature of technical medical terminology, or jargon, can be easily misunderstood or misconstrued by patients, especially so when anxiety about the need for radiation therapy to treat cancer may compromise the patient's concentration.


A third of the words classified as jargon related to general medical terms. Picture: iStock

A study in Australia explored the communication styles and use of medical jargon in consultations between patients and radiation therapists during treatment instruction and emotional support sessions given on the first day of treatment.

Fifty-eight patients and ten radiation therapists participated in the study, where the psycho-education interview/dialogue was recorded and the frequency and type of jargon documented and quantified. A qualitative analysis was undertaken, where the transcripts were examined to explore how patients expressed their apprehensions and the therapists sought an explanation of those concerns.

Simpler language

A third of the words classified as jargon related to general medical terms, such as 'therapist', while a third related to the specific circumstance. Technical language about treatment and side-effects each accounted for under one tenth of word frequency.

Many patients sought elucidation about treatment plans and scheduling, and many asked about the practicalities of the treatment machinery, side effects or associated hazards. As a means of explicating, radiation therapists would use diagrams, simpler language, or more commonplace analogies.


Schnitzler L, Smith S, Shepherd H et al (2017) Communication during radiation therapy education sessions: the role of medical jargon and emotional support in clarifying patient confusion. Patient Education and Counselling 100, 1, 112-120

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