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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Congitive Load

Healthcare is tremendously complex, but I sometimes wonder if we are suffering needlessly from complexity that we can do without.  And if you think technical standards are fraught with unnecessary complexity, acronyms and specialized language, the language of healthcare providers itself can be very confusing to the patient.

One of the classes I am taking this year is The Practice of Healthcare.  The text is a 1200 page tome called "The Essentials of Pathophysiology", and we use it to help us understand what clinicians must do for each of 10 cases addressed over the term.  The "Essentials" indeed, because the complete work would consume 4-5 times that in paper.  Fortunately, I have the electronic copy, which greatly improves my ability to find what I need.

Many of the other students in my class are clinicians in training or in practice, and this material is not quite as daunting for them.  I find myself struggling with the reading, having to stop and look up a term about 4 times on each page.

But in the process of doing so, what I have learned is that for many of these terms, there are simpler ways of explaining what these terms mean.  I understand the origins of many of the terms, and can routinely parse the meanings of them (but still look them up to be certain).  The words I seem to have the biggest problems with aren't the nouns (after all, engineers invent new nouns routinely), but rather the adjectives.

So I wonder, is it really necessary to say ventral and dorsal, or could we say front and back?  Is distal the best adjective or would far do?  And others like afferent and efferent, did we really need to have a word be able to be changed to its opposite by substitution of a single letter.  Would not transmitting and receiving be more readily understood?

How much of a physicians cognitive load is impressed upon him or her by the complexity of a secondary terminology that duplicates the function of words we already have and know?  Could that could be improved?  (And I also ask myself that same question about technology, but that has been less of an issue).

I'm afraid as I learn more that I might slip into the same pattern of language use.  I try to be diligent in my responses to translate the medical language into the English I already know, and avoid the use of three, four and five letter acronyms in my responses.  I now understand the short hand, but unless I respond in "my own" language, I'm not actually certain I understand the answer I just gave.

The next time I hear a clinician complain about my technical babblety babble, I'm not sure how I will respond.  I certainly have a better understanding of how they feel, but I think I just might explode on their own (ab)uses of language.