There’s at least one topic of widespread public interest that overlaps the expertise of otolaryngologists: the finding that COVID-19 can cause infected people to have a lost or distorted sense of smell or taste. Be prepared to tell patients what you know about this.
ENTtoday: What specific jargon would you suggest avoiding?
Dr. Sandman: I don’t have a specific list of COVID-19 jargon to use or avoid. But don’t let language distance you from your audience. Unless you have an extremely good reason not to do so, call things what your patients call them. If they say germ, you say germ.
The rule of thumb for teaching people jargon is to use the concept first, explaining it in plain language; then, once they understand it, tell them what it’s called—not the other way around. But a more important rule of thumb for teaching people jargon is this: Ask yourself whether you’re trying to enlighten them or impress them. Some patients may want to learn all about flattening the curve and R0 and the distinction between signs and symptoms. Most probably don’t.
About the only piece of jargon I think patients may really need to learn is “social distancing.” And that’s a toughie, because it means everything from not shaking hands to not leaving your home. Still, the basic concept is critical to everything right now, including decisions about whether to postpone ENT procedures. In a nutshell, the main way people catch COVID-19 is by being close to someone who’s infected, close enough that the virus passes from them to you, usually because they coughed, sneezed, talked, or breathed in your face. A secondary pathway is touching something they touched, then touching your own face. Staying home is maximum social distancing. Staying six feet away from other people is partway social distancing. And having an ENT doctor work on you is the diametric opposite of social distancing, something you would do right now only if you had a very good reason not to postpone it.
—Mary Beth Nierengarten