Patient understanding of medical jargon: a survey study of U.S. medical students.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

OBJECTIVE: With increasing exposure, medical students may forget that technical jargon is unfamiliar to laypeople. To investigate this possibility, authors assessed student perceptions of patient understanding across different years in medical school. METHODS: 533 students at 4 U.S. medical schools rated the proportion of patients likely to understand each of twenty-one different jargon terms. Students were either in the first month of their first year, the middle of their first year, or the middle of their fourth year of medical school. RESULTS: Fourth-year students were slightly more pessimistic about patients' understanding compared to new first-year students (mean percent understanding of 55.1% vs. 58.6%, p=0.004). Students both over- and under-estimated patient understanding of specific words compared to published estimates. In a multivariate model, other factors did not explain these differences. CONCLUSION: Students do not generally presume that patients understand medical jargon. In many cases they actually underestimate patients' understanding, and these estimates may become more pessimistic longitudinally. Jargon use in communication with patients does not appear to stem from unrealistic presumptions about patients' understanding or from desensitization to jargon during medical school. PRACTICE IMPLICATIONS: Training about patient knowledge of medical jargon may be a useful addition to communication skills curricula.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • LeBlanc, TW; Hesson, A; Williams, A; Feudtner, C; Holmes-Rovner, M; Williamson, LD; Ubel, PA

Published Date

  • May 2014

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 95 / 2

Start / End Page

  • 238 - 242

PubMed ID

  • 24525222

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1873-5134

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1016/j.pec.2014.01.014


  • eng

Conference Location

  • Ireland