Communication during radiation therapy education sessions: The role of medical jargon and emotional support in clarifying patient confusion

Lena Schnitzler, Sian K Smith, Heather L Shepherd, Joanne Shaw, Skye Dong, Delesha M Carpenter, Frances Nguyen, Haryana M Dhillon

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OBJECTIVE: Radiation oncology consultations involve explanation of complex technical concepts using medical jargon. This study aimed to: analyse types and frequency of medical jargon that radiation therapists (RTs) use during education sessions; identify how patients seek clarification from RTs; and, explore RTs communication strategies.

METHODS: Education sessions were audio-recorded and transcribed. Medical jargon was analysed using MaxDictio (a vocabulary analysis programme). A distinction was made between specialised (specialised terms used in RT or cancer) and contextual jargon (common everyday words with a different meaning in RT). Qualitative data were analysed using Framework analysis.

RESULTS: Fifty-eight patients and 10 RTs participated. Contextual treatment jargon were the most frequently used jargon (32.2%) along with general medical terms (34.6%). Patients appeared uncertain about the number of treatments, side effects, and the risks of radiation. Patients sought clarification by asking RTs to explain or repeat information. RTs replaced jargon with a simpler word, used everyday analogies, and diagrams.

CONCLUSION: Use of medical jargon is common in RT education sessions. RTs used different jargon types to varying degrees, but contextual jargon dominated.

PRACTICE IMPLICATIONS: Training RTs how to tailor information to enhance patients' understanding would be beneficial. Future research exploring medical jargon used in other (non-) oncology settings is required.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)112-120
Number of pages9
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
Issue number1
Early online date9 Aug 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2017

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2016 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.


  • Allied Health Personnel/psychology
  • Communication
  • Comprehension
  • Confusion
  • Female
  • Health Literacy
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms/radiotherapy
  • Patient Education as Topic/methods
  • Physicians
  • Professional-Patient Relations
  • Terminology as Topic


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