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    Thoughts From Your Colleagues

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    Watch Your Words

    Your article entitled “Reducing Patient Anxiety During Surgery” (Clinical Update, September) reminded me of a recent patient who was referred to my office by an optometrist. When I mentioned his refractive error, he immediately became anxious and finally told me that he interpreted my statement to mean that the optometrist must have made a mistake doing his refraction and had given him the wrong glasses.

    At first I thought of the old Chinese proverb that goes something like, “You don’t know what you’ve said until the listener hears it.” Then I thought that perhaps we need a new term for the phrase “refractive error.”

    Later, I realized that this is just another example of what happens when one group tries to cope with another group’s jargon. “Refractive error” makes sense to us, but can be mysterious to the lay public. When a person in one field tries to speak the jargon of a person in another field, the result is usually awkward, occasionally inaccurate, and frequently pretentious. The first thing that just about every patient asks when you hand him/her their eyeglass prescription is, “Is it stronger?” This always leaves me speechless. After all, the concept of “stronger” or “weaker” doesn’t really fit with my understanding of physiological optics. But then, this is my patient’s jargon—his/her way of comprehending the situation.

    So how about we say something like, “Mr. Smith, your eyes need an optical correction to improve your vision. Here is your new eyeglass prescription.” I have a feeling that plain language will reduce our patients’ anxiety level.

    Benjamin H. Bloom, MD 
    Philadelphia
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