Beware the Three Ps
Patients appreciate it when you use words
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
"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:
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.
ILLUSTRATION BY AMY
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
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 . . . ."
JACK RUNNINGER, OUR CONSULTING EDITOR, LIVES
IN ROME, GA. HE'S ALSO A PAST EDITOR OF OM. CONTACT HIM AT RUNNINGERJ@AOL.COM
Optometric Management, Issue: December 2003