Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Semantics in the Health World?

The NY Times printed an article recently regarding the medical jargon and issues with communication that arises in the international health world. With the recent swine flue epidemic, the various words and definitions that are associated with public health became glaringly apparent. What exactly does "pandemic" even mean? Health officials have yet to tell the public exactly what the word even entails, even though the word is instrumental to the WHO's six stages of outbreak levels for infectious diseases.

"Dr. William Schaffner, the chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University, said that “we, the public health community, deserve to be chided” about the confusion.

“We ought to be able to do a better job in communicating in an understandable way,” he said in an interview.

Scientists like to assert that theirs is an exact discipline. But like the terms “evidence -based medicine” and “peer review,” pandemic turns out to be another example of imprecise vocabulary that doctors use every day, assuming everyone understands their meaning. "

Although journals and textbooks seem to use "pandemic" liberally, they rarely, if ever, actually define the term.

For posterity's sake, here's what Merriam Webster says:

pandemic- a pandemic outbreak of a disease; occurring over a wide geographic area and affecting an exceptionally high proportion of the population

Super helpful, right?

Health needs to become more accessible and communication routes between health officials and communities need to be more clearly defined and traveled more often. This is the only way health will become a global effort and a global success. Everyone needs to become involved; jargon and foggy words cloud the efforts.



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