Posted by: sayamika, the killer bunny | 2007 February 16


Have you ever played Buzzword BINGO?

It was one of my favourite distractions in my previous incarnation as a volunteer development worker with VSO, sitting through interminable meetings- generally with government organisations- where everybody gets to make excellent points using buzzwords such as sustainable development and in Uganda and people-to-people. Not to say that these words don’t have great meaning, they once did before being picked up and used by every Tom, Dick, and Chikondi to make a point whether they knew what they were talking about or not.

And unsurprisingly, medicine is a great breeding ground for similar fun.

So, informed consent.

Meaning, before a patient is prescribed a drug or undergoes surgery, the doctor has thoroughly explained why that person needs this drug or procedure right now, what are the side effects and risks (all of them), what the alternatives are for that patient at this time, and what is likely to happen with and without the proposed treatment.

Colorectal surgeons, in my experience, are sufficiently anal to believe totally in informed consent. Some other surgeons do sit down and have a long and honest discussion with a patient. Emergent situations are meant to be the only exception, but the reality is, well, they’re not.

Sending the medical student to get a signature on a piece of paper after a discussion of infection and bleeding rates, of common complications and dangerous complications, does not make for informed consent. It can get particularly hairy if there has been a change in plans due to late scan results and the student is not clear which surgery the patient is even going to have because the resident doesn’t know and there are references to three different types of surgery. Makes for a very confusing pre-op clinic.

Similarly, most of the patients I have seen who have a list of medications as long as your arm have no clue why they are taking any of them.

Which is just as well, in some ways, because if most people knew what an NNT was, they’d never trust any doctor ever again.



  1. Marketing is notorious for buzzwords; fundraising (when I used to work in it) even more so. I used to write 30-page proposals that consisted of 3 pages of real information and 27 pages of buzzword boilerplate… and those were considered meaty, for the industry. Everything from “achievement” to “continuous improvement” to “donor entanglement” can fit easily into that category.

    Government organisations and NGOs – who we worked with an awful lot – love acronyms and abbreviations. After a conversation with some of them, I felt like asking “can I buy a vowel?”

    The printing industry loves to throw in buzzwords just to confuse people about their pricing.

    The business world in general loves to talk about “cross-cultural communication”, “globalization”, “efficiency management”, “total quality management”, “high performance culture” and all kinds of meaningless things like that. Used to drive me crazy as a student. Every prof would ramble on and on about these buzzwords, and students would hand in papers littered with them, and none of them would realize they had said absolutely nothing of value.

    But my theory is that we used buzzwords originally to save time – when people would abbreviate within an industry to talk to one another, they could cut back on a lot of useless explanation. But now, we use them to feel smart, sound smart, or act superior. Kind of useless in this case, right?

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