Article Date: 1/1/2011

Patients Can Be Confusing
lessons learned

Patients Can Be Confusing

And if you can't provide an immediate cure, at least give them a stock tip.

Jack Runninger, OD

Somewhere I read about the lady who had an appointment with a physician who specialized in pulmonary/breathing problems. While waiting in the exam room, she noticed her medical records on the table. When she saw the initials “S.O.B.” written on the cover, she became infuriated.

“If that's what he thinks of me, I'm leaving and never coming back,” she thought.

As she stalked out, she angrily told the nurse why she was leaving. The nurse's unexpected response was to break out laughing, before she explained that “S.O.B.” stood for “shortness of breath.”

Obviously, you are not alone in having confused and/or confusing patients. For example:

Wrong doctor

As you know, there are some people who, as soon as they find out you're an optometrist, seek free advice about an eye problem they're having. One such lady was introduced at a party to a Dr. Jones.

“Oh, Dr. Jones, I am so happy to meet you. I've been having a rash on my legs. Can you tell me what might be causing it and what I need to do to cure it?” she asked.

“I'm a doctor of economics, not a medical doctor,” he replied.

“Well, then, can you tell me if this is a good time to sell my AT&T stock?” she persisted.

Dr. Gerald McLaughlin, Overland Park, Kan., tells of two types of patients who confuse him.

“My vision is so bad, I can't see anything at all in the distance,” says the patient.

“Gee, how did you get here today?” Dr. McLaughlin asks.

“I drove myself, of course,” says that patient. “Why do you ask?”

The other one:

“Since this started, I can't stand it, my eye hurts so bad,” phones the patient on a Saturday evening.

“Gee, when did this start?” Dr. McLaughlin asks.

The patient replies, “Five days ago.”


I read somewhere of a Philadelphia dentist, Dr. John Bomba, who advocates (tongue in cheek, I hope), that we deliberately confuse patients in order to appear well trained.

“Ordinary folks expect dentists to use polysyllabic technical words,” he said. “And when he uses simple language, patients grow uneasy and wonder what the dentist learned in college anyway. Instead of calling it gum trouble, the dentist should call it ‘periodontal disease.’ And a tooth ache should be referred to as an ‘offending incisor.’

“Ambiguity of expression attracts respect. Practitioners of all professions should use technical jargon. Babbling in a language that patients won't understand, might result in ignorance, but it would be a respectful ignorance.”

Obviously my neurosurgeon friend disagrees with this theory. “Your diagnosis is that you've got a lousy back,” he told me after performing X-rays on my aching back.

“It appears I should get a more scientific diagnosis than that,” I complained.

“I had to put it in language I thought you might possibly understand,” he said one-upping me.

Medical Science

Another thing that confuses me about medical science is that if it has improved so much during the past 50 years, why did I feel so much better back then than I do now? OM


Optometric Management, Issue: January 2011