How to de-jargonify health info online


The other big reason for using “jargon” among medical professionals is precision of communication. Using the correct medical term for a particular symptom or disease process communicates a lot of information to another professional.
And then, as a nurse, my job becomes translating that into understandable language for a patient. While an automated application is handy, it is going to suffer the same issues as any other internet translation program. And if your health is the subject, having a human person who can clarify what that jargon means to YOU is vitally important. Knowing what a word means is great, but people want to know the implications of it as well.
Lastly, going to wikipedia for information is fine, but a resource that can be edited by anyone cannot be trusted for important decisions. NIH, WHO, Mayo Clinic all have great information sources that can be relied upon for understandable information.


Exactly. Making medicine more inclusive is an excellent objective, but characterising jargon as deliberately exclusionary is a bit naughty. It does have real value.


There’s also MedLinePlus, which is an excellent source of info for all kinds of medical questions, not just definitions.


Jargon is a superb tool if you are trying to be an exclusionary obscurantist; but assuming that that is its primary purpose gets dangerously close to assuming that a discipline complex enough to have developed a jargon is actually just a protective clique wrapped around something that would be easy if it weren’t for their meddling.

This is rarely the case.


The Up Goer Five is among the best of XKCD; but I’ve always wondered what it would be like to see that image(expanded to the necessary size) next to the diagrams that described the rocket in enough detail to build it…

I probably don’t even want to know how many distinct blueprints and documents would need to be collected and integrated to produce the comprehensive diagram (and so much, like descriptions of specific alloys and processing steps, would be ‘incorporated by reference’ rather than having a natural location on the rocket diagram); but the result would probably be pretty intimidating.


Fifteen years in fire-rescue and having worked from volunteer to management as an EMT basic through paramedic(highest level an EMT can reach) as well as teaching paramedic students and at the fire dpt. has given me a vantage point to be terrified that every person, especially parents, are not required to train and volunteer in an ambulance and ER for at least 3-4 years and volunteer firefighter-rescue for at least one year.
The knowledge and experience is essential to having an informed conversation with your doctor or to deal with an emergency but unfortunately too many people look at medicine and emergency response almost like computer programming, microchip fabrication, or airplane piloting; an intelectual black box tended to by clerics of the required secret guild.
I wish in addition to regular high school and undergrad courses law and medicine were required at least once every year, the societal ignorance and fictional infotainment TV education on these topics makes conversations with professionals even more difficult.


This desperately needs to be a not-phoning-home mobile app.
(If there’s only 3,000 jargon terms, it’ll fit in much less than 1MB.)

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Maybe I’m good at reading jargon, but it hasn’t been an issue for me.

Research has been.

Too often, I can’t find something because … well, it’s hard to find. I search for “fructose malabsorption” and find pediatric articles. I search for “adult onset fructose malabsorption” and find porn sites. I don’t know how to search for whatever-it-is where nsaids don’t work and do inflict massive intestinal pain. I search on pubmed, and too many free full text links to another site lead to paywalls instead of free full text articles.

How did the co-founder of a start up get a self-promoting, FUD spewing guest post on BB? And why isn’t it marked sponsored or advertisement?

I saw reports about the jargon translater on other websites and it seemed like a useful tool, but none of those sites let the co-founder write a post misleading readers, calling the use of specialized, precise language in medicine " insidious."

If Thomas Goetz thinks precise language in medicine is bad, he should consider this converse, when vague or equivocal language is used - the bad outcomes are worse than a dispute over whether “thirty seven fifty” means $37.50 or $3750.

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Thanks for the comment! You make a great point - there’s a worthy reason that medical professionals use the language they do. But the reality is that when people go online to find medical information - which they do in droves, and they often end up at Wikipedia - they are flummoxed by the language they find. That’s what we’re trying to address.
Oh, and yes, Wikipedia may be inconsistent, but it’s still a primary resource, even for doctors and nurses! A recent survey found that 50% of doctors use Wikipedia first!

Sir Skeptic (well named!) -

I’m sorry you don’t like my guest post - but the post isn’t sponsored, or an advertisement. I am a longtime friend of BoingBoing and we thought that this tool would interest BB readers, simple as that. And you’re right about imprecise language - I’ll let you know when we figure out how to build a tool to solve that! :wink:

Next challenge: de-jargonify Cory Doctorow’s posts on BB.

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I think your product seems useful, which is why your over the top post seems more than a bit odd since you shouldn’t need misleading hyperpole or references to conspiracies to keep patients in the dark to sell people on its utility.

And even if there is no commercial consideration involved (you got for free what other companies have to pay for), the post meets all the other criteta of a sponsored post or (“native”) advertisement given that it is entirely self-promotional and you are not one of BBs writers (AFIK).

I hope the product succeeds, but I also hope that the native advertising aspect and marketing hyperbole are reevaluated.

Yes, I have caught a few providers using Wikipedia to look things up. While they maybe able to communicate in “jargon” many are woefully less literate in online tech. After explaining how Wikipedia is edited and how many people use that process with bad intent, they usually turn very pale and sign into the medical database resources they are provided by the clinic.

I used to spend a good bit of time on this subject. In medicine there are often numerous aliases for the same thing and homonyms for different things. And it all gets kicked to some nomenclature standards committee for a wankfest that can last half your career.

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“Sponsored” or “advertisement” both specific imply compensation for the placement. If you want a term to use to object, it sounds as though “cronyism” would be about as close as you can come, albeit a bit strong.

On the OP, I’m a big fan of technical language for precision and efficiency. I do legal writing; sometimes the expected readers are other lawyer, sometimes not. It’s efficient when, knowing that I am writing for criminal lawyers, I can just say a “Bateson violation”–that’s exclusion of jurors based on their race, and refers to a specific SCOTUS case. I’d normally explain for a different audience. The real communication problem comes when a term means one thing in common usage and another in technical usage. In law, a dramatic example of this is the word “person,” which has the core meaning of, basically “something that can sue, be sued, and own property in its own name,” something that makes “corporate personhood” equivalent to “corporate existence.” In medicine, the example that comes to mind is “abortion,” which includes spontaneous abortions. An application that flagged words like those would be particularly useful.

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