Our Profession is Deprived of its Language

When I use Dragon and say “PRN”, the words “as needed” appear on the screen.

I cringe every time. My medical record needs to be a tool for me and my peers, and most non-medical people have watched enough medical dramas on TV growing up to be thoroughly familiar with that particular abbreviation.

Why is it that almost everybody on the planet eagerly adopts the acronyms, abbreviations and technical terms of smartphones and other modern inventions without whining that the words are too difficult?

We have all had to add SIM card, SMS, jpg, mp3, LTE, RAM and a host of other abbreviations to our vocabulary in the last few years.

The language of everyday technology is advancing naturally and organically with the times while the language of medicine is continually being dumbed down and held back by political forces that assume people are unable to learn even the simplest words of any technical jargon.

But the US isn’t the worst in this regard. I just came across a listing by the British National Health Service, NHS, that strives to tell doctors how to speak with patients.

The Brits always did have a quirky sense of humor, and it seems to me that this list has sprung from that tradition:

passing wind

We don’t use “passing wind”. People understand “fart” better.


We use the nouns “pee” and “urine”. We know that everyone can understand “pee”, including people who find reading difficult. Most people also understand and search for “urine”, for example in phrases like “blood in urine”.

We don’t use “wee” because it can confuse people who use voice technologies or screen readers.

We use “pee” for the verb, not “urinate” or “pass urine”. We know that the people who use NHS digital services talk about and search for “peeing more often” and “peeing at night”.


We use “carry on” or “keep going”.


We mostly use “poo”, rather than “stool”. We know that everyone can understand “poo”, including people who find reading difficult.


We prefer “bottom” or “anus”. Only use “rectum” when the other alternatives aren’t clear enough, for example when talking about surgery to remove part of the rectum.

We found that people don’t search for “rectum” in Google as much as other terms.


We use “feeling sick” instead of “nausea”, but you may want to put “nausea” in brackets afterwards: feeling sick (nausea).

We use “being sick” instead of “vomiting”. Again, you may want to put “vomiting” in brackets afterwards: being sick (vomiting).


I think much of that list is a bunch of poo…

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Osler said “Listen to your patient, he is telling you the diagnosis”. Duvefelt says “Listen to your patient, he is telling you what kind of doctor he needs you to be”.


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