Patient Experience for Locum Tenens Providers – “Living Room Language”

As a clinician it’s important to remember that most patients don’t understand clinical terminology. That’s why it’s helpful to use “living room language”. This is everyday language that can be understood by adults at most any age or literacy level. Using this kind of language in a clinical setting can be challenging, so it’s no surprise that the HCAHPS question, “How often did doctors explain things in a way you can understand?” is consistently the lowest scoring question of the three doctor communication questions. See the reference list below to help you master “living room language”.

Medical terms that patients may not understand

  • Adverse – Bad
  • Analgesic – Pain killer
  • Anti-inflammatory – Helps swelling and irritation go away
  • Avoid – Stay away from, do not use/eat
  • Contraception – Helps you not get pregnant
  • Diet – What you eat, your meals
  • Dosage – How much medicine you should take
  • Generic – Something that does not have a brand, same drug/food
  • Internist – Regular doctor
  • Intermittent – Off and on
  • Oral – By mouth, eat/drink/swallow
  • Cellulitis – Skin infection
  • Enlarge – Get bigger
  • Lateral – Outside
  • Lesion – Sore, wound
  • Lipids – Fats in the blood
  • Menses – Period
  • Monitor – Keep track of, keep an eye on
  • Normal Range – Where it should be, provide the range
  • Osteoporosis – Soft, brittle bones
  • Referral or Consult – Ask to see another doctor
  • Terminal – Not curable
  • Toxic – Poisonous
  • Depression – Feeling sad or down


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Source: Mark Rudolph, MD, SFHM, VP Physician Development & Patient Experience, Sound Physicians
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