Let’s stop using adjectives to identify patients

We have all heard it, we have probably all said it:

  • “My diabetics never follow my instructions”
  • “That schizophrenic is back in the hospital again”
  • “How should I screen cirrhotics?”
  • “Did you hear about my CHF-er?”

It might be easy to say but it certainly isn’t patient-friendly. Patients are people. Sometimes they have diseases or syndromes or symptoms. But diseases shouldn’t describe our patients. Patients are not a disease, and certainly they aren’t the “adjectival” form of the disease (e.g. “diabetic” for the disease diabetes).  Ascribing these words and phrases to people can have a few effects:

  • It anchors the doctors and/or the patients on the disease or diagnosis, when the diagnosis may not be correct or complete
  • It changes our focus from the person to the disease
  • It changes patient perception of the medical profession
  • And worst of all…It demeans patients

So let’s think about rephrasing the above:

  • “The patients with diabetes in my practice often have difficulty…”
  • “The man with schizophrenia we both recently treated has been readmitted.”
  • “How should l screen patients who have cirrhosis?”
  • “Did you hear about Mrs. X, the patient with CHF I treated last week?”

Yes, it may seem like semantics. Yes, it takes a few extra seconds and a little bit of effort. I’ve personally had to focus on changing my own lexicon and occasionally find myself resorting to my older habits. But if you pay a bit of attention to colleagues from here on out, you might start thinking about how it sounds and try to make the change yourself.


About Ryan Madanick, MD

I am a gastroenterologist who specializes in diseases of the esophagus, with a strong interest in the diagnosis and treatment of patients who have difficult-to-manage esophageal problems such as refractory GERD. I can be followed on Twitter: @RyanMadanickMD (he/him)
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5 Responses to Let’s stop using adjectives to identify patients

  1. Liz says:

    Hi Dr. Madanick. Great post. This is actually something I am very cognizant of on a daily basis. It’s an easy habit to get into- identifying patients as a breast patient or ovarian patient or whatever kind of disease patient. The disease does not define the patient- they just happen to be diagnosed with the disease. Patients are people. Diseases are not! I never thought about it until we had a big discussion about this as a team and it was like a lightbulb went on. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Jenie says:

    Wow .Dr ryan. I didn’t know changing phrases can make so much differance.thank you for the brilliant article. I will sure think before what I speak.
    Gastroenterology in london

  3. Aliya says:

    Hi, nice post. Patient care is very important for any type of treatment. caring and loving a vital role in treatment. its helpful for patient in health recovering.

    Holistic | Patient care services

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