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Lost in Translation

Updated: Feb 22, 2023

The language used in health care is not commonly used everyday. Most of the words used are unfamiliar to the average person. Yet it communicates information that significantly affects the quality of our health and well-being and in some cases influences our economy and social structure. This was most evident during the COVID-19 pandemic when individuals needed to acquire, understand and apply their knowledge of health and the human body and adapt their behavior in oder to carefully and critically exam information. But something was lost in translation. Part of the disconnect had to do with the fact not everyone was speaking the same language. Language matters, language is powerful. It facilitates our ability to effectively communicate and if misunderstood can and did lead to confusion, frustration and mistrust.

Words like acute, antibodies, antigen, pathogen, virus, virulence, virology, monoclonal, epidemiology, antiretroviral were mostly unfamiliar. Comparative terms as in vitro vs. in vivo, morbidity vs. mortality, contagious vs infectious were confusing and acronyms like DNA, RNA and SARS-CoV-2 were not easily understood. Now you may say I’m not a healthcare professional and I can’t be expected to know medical terminology. But think about this comparison. When you get your car fixed you have a basic understanding of the parts of a car because you know a vocabulary that relates to cars and driving. You know the transmission allows you to drive the car even though you may not know the specifics on how it actually does that. It you need to get your car repaired you can make an informed decision about what should be done. Vocabulary provides knowledge with a society. It allows you to enter the "room" and know there is a "piece of furniture called a couch" and that it is "used for seating" and that you can be "comfortable sitting on it" even though you make not know "how the couch was made".

A basic understanding of medical terminology allows you to develop a vocabulary about your body and how it is affected and responds to disease, disfunction and infection. It allows you to confidently enter into conversation with assurance that you are doing what you can do to protect and ensure your health, your family’s health and the health of our communities.

Next Post: You know more than you think.

Image Citation:Lamen, D. (2016). Lost in Translation. [Online image]. Retrieved from

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