Article Date: 6/1/2003

lessons learned
The Smart Detective
Clear up the mystery of medicalese for your patients.
By Jack Runniger, O.D.

The police chief was interviewing three applicants for a detective position. To test their skills in recognizing suspects, he showed the first applicant a photo for five seconds and then turned it over.

"This is your suspect. How would you recognize him?"

"That's easy," he responded. "He only has one eye."

"You idiot! That's because the photo only shows his profile," fumed the chief. He repeated the process with the second applicant.


"He'd be easy to recognize. He only has one ear," this one replied.

"What's the matter with you guys," yelled the chief. "Of course the picture shows only one eye and one ear -- it's a profile shot!"

"The suspect is wearing contact lenses," opined the third applicant after studying the photo intently.

"Wow, I can't believe it! The suspect does indeed wear contact lenses. How were you able to make such an astute observation?"

"That's easy," he answered. "He can't wear regular glasses because he only has one eye and one ear."

Not as they seem

As the story shows, things are not always as they appear. Another example of this lies in your patients' possible misinterpretations of healthcare terminology.

"You have cyclitis," you inform a patient. Until you explain what the term means, the patient's resultant thought processes might go something like this:

"Cyclitis?! Sounds like a rash from a bicycle seat. How can he tell what's wrong at that end of my anatomy by examining my eyes?"

"The last eye doctor I went to told me I needed sunglasses because I had photophobia," a new patient, Emma Trope, told me. "I don't understand. What does a fear of having your picture taken have to do with needing sunglasses?"

Patients can easily misinterpret many healthcare terms such as photophobia and cyclitis to have a meaning other than the proper one. Some general healthcare terms and their possible definitions include:

Less than crystal clear

Recently I ran across a list of definitions involving terms more specific to eye care and how people can misinterpret them. Dr. Michael Wodis devised them and we ran them in Optometric Management years ago when I was editor. Some of my favorites include:

Jack Runniger, our consulting editor, lives in Rome, GA.  He's also a past editor of OM.


Optometric Management, Issue: June 2003