Study reveals power of medical language

New research shows that unclear communication can have a serious impact on patient care during surgeries.

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August 5, 2021 - 8:06 AM

University of Kansas and University of Missouri-Kansas City researchers point to miscommunication in surgery as a risk to patients and impediment to training of surgeons. Image is of LMH’s campus in Lawrence. (TIM CARPENTER/KANSAS REFLECTOR)

LAWRENCE — Research by a University of Kansas linguist and University of Missouri-Kansas City physicians pointed to the potential medical harm of ambiguous communication in operating rooms that also complicated the training of surgeons.

The analysis was based on observation of surgical residents at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in which 3,912 instances, or 12.3 per minute, of imprecise language were identified during six separate surgical procedures. Restatement or rephrasing of instructions in these cases occurred at a pace of 1.4 per minute in the study.

A review of video recordings of the procedures conducted under supervision of physicians exposed 131 instances of inexact language that could have led to a medical error, researchers said.

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