Article Date: 12/1/2003

lessons learned
Beware the Three Ps
Patients appreciate it when you use words they understand.
By Jack Runniger, O.D.

A dentist tells a story about the Pope dying and appearing at the Pearly Gates. Instead of getting in line, he goes directly to the head to gain immediate admittance.

"I'm sorry," said St. Peter. "Everyone in heaven is considered equal in importance. Even though you were the Pope, you will have to get in line and wait your turn."

Just then, a man in a white clinic jacket with a stethoscope around his neck walked past the line and through the gate unchallenged.

"If everyone is equal, why is that doctor permitted to enter ahead of the rest of us?" asked the Pope.

"He's not a doctor," answered St. Peter. "That was God. Sometimes he thinks he's a doctor!"

(This story is, of course, a take-off on some doctors' "holier-than-thou" attitude.)

Forget the 50-cent words

As I get older and more crotchety, I find that among my pet peeves are the three Ps involved in the attitude illustrated above:

1. Pomposity

2. Pretentiousness

3. Pontification

Unfortunately lawyers and healthcare professionals are possibly the biggest offenders -- and often unintentionally!

Because of these three Ps, there's a tendency for our language to become what author Russell Baker terms "American fat." According to Baker in his book So This Is Depravity, he heard a radio announcer interview a doctor who worked in a hospital with "social misfits." He asked him the purpose of his work.

"To facilitate patients' re-entry into society as functioning members . . . .," said the doctor.

"Why couldn't he have just said, 'To get patients out of the hospital and back home?'" lamented Baker.


Clarity wins fans

"This letter is just to say 'thank you' for giving us a very readable journal," wrote a reader of the Southern Journal of Optometry when I was its editor years ago. "Other journals don't do this. For example, in another journal, I read, 'The observed photoelastic fringe velocities for CR-39 are considerably greater than either the wave velocity determined by shadow-optic procedures . . . .'"

Technical writing does, of course, involve scientific terms and more difficult reading. However, even here, I often get the feeling that many authors try to show the depth of their intellect rather than make their messages clear.

How not to impress patients

Unfortunately we also burden our patients with this "American fat." Not only does the pompous attitude turn off patients, but it also fails to make your message clear.

"Do not try to impress people with your professionalism by using technical terms," advised Chester Burger, former director of the Public Relations Society of America. "You do not demean your professionalism by talking in the simplest, clearest language you can."

Fracturing a fairy tale

According to Baker, many of today's professionals would rewrite the Little Red Riding Hood story:

"Once upon a point in time, a small person named Little Red Riding Hood initiated plans for the preparation, delivery and transportation of foodstuffs to her grandmother, a senior citizen residing at a place of residence in a wooded area of indeterminate dimension . . . ."



Optometric Management, Issue: December 2003