Health Is Social

Infusing Social Media into Healthcare

People with diabetes are not “diabetics”.

People with schizophrenia are not “schizophrenics”.

People with diseases are not their diseases.

Language influences our perceptions of reality.

When healthcare professionals speak like this, they run the risk of contaminating their assessments, communications and treatment implementations.

When people who have diseases refer to themselves as diseases, they too run the risk of confining who they are to what they have.

Please don’t confuse having with being.

– Phil Baumann

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  • tmana

    A lot depends on whether you’re using the “-ic” as a noun or an adjective. Much like a person is blond or brunette, a person may be diabetic or leprous (I’m deliberately using a deprecated term here) — that is, affected physically (or psychologically) by diabetes or Hansen’s Disease. So, I am not “a diabetic”, but, living with diabetes, I am diabetic. That said, the telegraphic style used in scientific writing requires the contraction. It cannot (& arguably should not) be changed from “X-Diseaseics” to “Patients with X-Disease”…

    • Phil Baumann

      The problem with your reasoning (which I certainly appreciate) is this: language has the power to alter peoples’ perceptions.

      And as far as the telegraphic style used in scientific writing: that’s a problem with scientific writing – people shouldn’t be subordinated to what is essentially a bureaucratic convention. In fact, such conventions reveal the deep lack of appreciation for *human* beings as human beings. They become things, instead of beings.

      Finally, an adjective can’t be plural 😉

  • As a nurse and a person living with type 1 diabetes and mothering a child with type 1- I really don’t like to be labeled by my disease. Person first, disease second. I mean really- we don’t say epileptic anymore it’s a person with a seizure disorder. Don’t call me a diabetic or my daughter. I am a person living a healthy life who happens to have diabetes…

    • Phil Baumann

      Yes, it’s become an unfortunate way of speaking.

      I’m a nurse as well, and when I used to practice bedside, I would notice how influential was the labeling of a patient as “____ic”. If you’re not careful, that one word can envelop the person you’re charged to care for – so that you see them in different light.

      So, I”m with you: the language matters and I hope we see advancement, especially in medical and nursing education.

  • Hello Phil – very interesting perspective. As an informed heart attack survivor (there! I said it!) I have to say that the reality of my Dx means that when I speak to audiences about women’s #1 killer, they listen. I hardly see this as “confining who I am to what I have”. I’m also described with plenty of other ‘labels’ in life, but the truth is that with all my many and varied roles, I’m also a person who happened to survive what many do not. That reality gives me some ‘street cred’ that others in the room may not have.

    • Phil Baumann

      Hi Carolyn

      That may be the case for you (certainly, I can’t tell people who to be or how to talk).

      However, language does influence perceptions. And I’ve seen how it can influence providers’ view of the people they’re charged to care for.

      It really is an important issue – once people are labeled a certain way (say as “heart attack victim”) then there’s a chance that *other* conditions/needs get missed. Make sense?