Friday, September 12, 2008

Latin and Greek are too difficult. Thus, get rid of them.

Having taught both Latin and Greek, I can say, with authority, that neither is an easy langauge, especially Greek. They both have rules and regulations which baffle speakers of modern language who believe that as long as someone "gets the jist of it" whatever they have said is thus a valid expression of the langauge. Perhaps. Now a University of Cambridge "specialist" (I'm not sure what she specializes in) believes that the jargon of Latin and Greek should be thrown out because it complicates understanding for patients and even doctors. Let's assume she is correct. Do we then come up with a new universal system? Will there be a committee to evaluate this? Will this be in some new made up language so that a doctor in Singapore and the UK diagnose the same way? Then will patients have to become fluent in that new terminology? The logistics against it just go on and on.I'll bet good money two to one that this "specialist" flunked Latin and/or Greek sometime in her life and is now trying to get revenge against it. I've had any number of students who have failed Latin and Greek go on to decry it because the languages weren't fair to them and weren't easy enough. Oh, cry me a river! Not everything in this life is easy. If you can't do it, fine. Do what you do well but don't discourage others and insult them by saying the Latin and Greek terminology should be done away with because of your own shortcomings. This system has been in place for hundreds upon hundreds of years. It's not broke, don't fix it. ANd considering how many of these medical terms also have cognates in our basic vocabulary which we use day to day, this "specialist" is essentially saying that you are too stupid to understand.

Medical terms all Greek to patients

Written by Lautaro Vargas Friday, 12 September 2008

The abundance of ancient Greek and Latin terms in medicine should be abandoned because it could be harming patients according to a University of Cambridge specialist.Dr Melinda Lyons of the Department of Engineering’s Engineering Design Centre (EDC) said the “dead language” terminology that underpins the medical jargon that makes up the exclusive language of doctors, dates as far back as the 5th century BC and spreads confusion that could potentially put patients at risk.Unlike previous research, the paper identified the prefixes that pose the greatest risk and Dr Lyons wants to see the language of medicine brought up to date and simplified by removing “archaic risk-prone terms.”Writing in The Lancet medical journal, Dr Lyons listed a wide range of ‘lookalike and soundalike’ prefixes commonly used by doctors which look or sound alike but have completely different meanings. Examples included, “inter” (between) versus “intra” (within), “super” or “supra” (above) versus “sub” or “sur” (below), and “hypo” (low) versus “hyper” (high).The field of healthcare typically manages problems of lookalike/soundalike terms through quick fixes such as coloured packaging and handwriting assessments, as well as encouraging ‘readback’ of terms though radical reforms of the language would rarely be seen as a solution.Dr Lyons said that In many ways the challenge arising from the lookalike/soundalike terms is similar to that addressed by the EDC’s inclusive design team, which seeks to educate designers to consider those with impairments or disabilities in order to ensure products are manufactured with their needs in mind.She said that the definition of an “inclusive language of healthcare” would ensure that the safety of staff and patients alike is not compromised through misreading or mishearing terms.

1 comment:

mlyons said...

From Melinda Lyons :-
I admit, my original article has attracted considerable attention and the "spin-offs" from it don't really capture the essence of my message.
My expertise is in human error and my emphasis is to consider the contribution of language to such error. There are some terms (highlighted in the article) that introduce risk.
Consider an emergency situation where the patient requires immediate care and the environment is noisy.
Consider that this may be at night where a junior doctor has to contact a senior doctor to discuss a condition and ask for recommendations for treatment.
Consider if the senior doctor has quite a dominant personality, or is hard of hearing
Now, what if one of these terms is "hypo" and it is mistook for "hyper", either
a) there is some delay while one or the other side clarifies which term was used
b) there is an assumption that one term is used leading to a potential error and potentially wrong treatment;
I think would be a little impossible to remove ALL the Latin and Greek from normal language let alone the classically-dominated clinical language (would there be much left???) and that was not the intnetion of the paper - just the emphasis where they are lookalike / soundalike and used in risk-prone situations and there are well-known terms that are available without these associated risks.
As an additional, I studied Latin at school and liked it very much and studied Greek at university recently as I believed it was important.
Thanks for the comments!