Subjects: Behavioral health
How would you feel if your physician said you have heartburn, male pattern baldness or excessive sweating?
Now, how would you feel if she said you have gastroesophageal reflux disease, androgenic alopecia or hyperhydrosis?
The terms are synonymous but the medicalized ones carry different connotations, according to scientists at McMaster University.
To investigate the impact of medical terminology on perceptions of disease, Meredith Young and colleagues asked college students to rate medical and lay terms for several medical conditions.
When a condition was given a fancy medical label, students perceived it to be more serious, more legitimate as a disease, and less prevalent than when labeled using a lay term. The perceptions were not impacted by severity of the condition.
Thus a patient told she has gastroesophageal reflux disease is likely to think she is sicker than had she been told she has heartburn. The authors speculate the difference can impact a patient’s sense of well-being and willingness to comply with care plans among other things.
The differences were observed only in conditions that had been recently medicalized (see post later today on this matter).
“A simple switch in terminology can result in a real bias in perception,” Young told the Journal of Life Sciences. The study co-author added, “These findings have implications for many areas, including medical communication with the public, corporate advertising and public policy.”
Karin Humphres, another co-author said “This is particularly important when you have…conditions that have become medicalized… through the influence of pharmaceutical companies, who want to make you think that you have a disease that will need to be treated with a drug.”