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July 25, 2011
"Mr. Smith, let's review the results of your blood tests. Your CBC, BMP, and LFTs were basically negative. You have prediabetes and a slightly elevated LDL, and since your BMI is 28, you should watch your diet and exercise more to prevent metabolic syndrome. Oh, and it's OK to keep taking an occasional NSAID with food for your idiopathic knee pain."
Huh? Although I hope I've never said anything resembling the above to a real patient, doctors routinely use so many medical terms and abbreviations that it can sometimes sound as if we're speaking gibberish. What's worse, many patients may feel pressure to simply pretend they understand what the doctor is saying. Unfortunately, that approach often leads to misunderstandings and poor health choices. A report published last week in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that patients with low health literacy (the ability to read and interpret medical information) were more likely to be hospitalized, use medications inappropriately, and receive fewer recommended vaccines and screening tests. While the report only covered written materials, it stands to reason that patients also make worse health-related decisions when they don't understand medical jargon spoken in the doctor's office.
So let's demystify the terms I just used with my imaginary patient—terms family and friends told me they wished doctors would explain.
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July 7, 2011
When a new drug goes on the market for, say, diabetes, doctors are typically bombarded by advertising messages that promote it. Patients may see television commercials touting the new drug's advantages over older ones and advising them to "talk to your doctor" about obtaining a prescription. But since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration only requires drug companies to prove that new drugs work better than placebos (sugar pills), there's often little or no reliable information about whether a new drug is actually an improvement over existing therapies.