What People Want: Clarity

I spend a lot of time in meetings where health-care-specific terms are the norm. Bench to bedside, coordination of care, population health and medical destination all come to mind.

While people in the industry may know what these phrases mean, it’s entirely possible that crucial staff members who are less involved in communicating the business of medicine are not familiar with them.

And, many of these terms find their way into materials that go out to the world: from tweets and blogs to magazine articles and YouTube videos.

What do these phrases say to those who matter most to our institution: the people who need our care and our own staff? When we use the inside vernacular of the modern medical landscape and business of health care, do we alienate our most important audiences?

We’ve recently set up a number of surveys to discover exactly that, among other subtleties of the words we choose.

Overwhelmingly, in nearly all cases in these surveys, people showed that they preferred plain, direct language over favored industry terms and conceptual business lingo.

In a national survey of 25,187 people, when asked which phrase was more meaningful to them with regard to the future of health care, 55.5 percent of respondents said that they preferred the phrase personalized health care over individualized health care, at 36.3 percent, and population health, at 8.1 percent. While all of these are buzz phrases of the moment, this answer speaks about a number of things. Among them are the power of words and how people envision medicine’s trajectory as it relates to them.

In another survey of 1074 former Johns Hopkins patients, 44 percent of respondents preferred the term new ideas, new treatments over cutting edge, at 33.5 percent, and innovation, at 22.5 percent.

Though there are various ways to dissect the answers to these questions, the common thread through nearly all of them is that our respondents preferred concise language that spoke directly to their needs. If I wanted to say it in jargon, I might say they want “transparency,” but what they really seem to want—and most certainly deserve—is clarity.

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