Language patterns in medicine

wrong-questionIf you have read this far then you know that I have just spent a few days in hospital. As part of that I have been asked a host of questions about my health history and some of them have caused me a little concern, not on grounds of their content but their form. More than once in the last few days I have been asked questions such as:

“Do you know where you are?”

“You don’t have any allergies do you?”

“You are OK with that aren’t you?”

On one occasion I answered the first one with “Yes thank you”!

Now I accept that I am being a bit smart-ass with that answer because it was perfectly obvious that the nurse wanted to test my understanding of where I was by asking me to state where I was at that time. But at its heart it is a closed question.

The other ‘mistakes’ are not so innocent or harmless in my view – they are leading questions, and we all know where leading questions can take us (to the answer we are seeking). It’s easy for someone under stress, such as those waiting for an operation, to answer ‘Yes’ to the leading question without really thinking it through. It would be tragic for someone to receive inappropriate treatment simply because they got the ‘wrong’ answer to a leading question.

There is no room for these potential mistakes and I don’t know whether nurses and doctors get training in such aspects of language use – but they should!

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