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Reduce Stigmatizing Language in Healthcare

The words that healthcare providers use in clinical communication — in conversations with one another and written in the EMR — can have far-reaching impact. Our words have the power to build rapport, create trust and empower our patients. Our language can also reflect and transmit our biases and influence provider attitudes, impact access to care, and affect our clinical decision-making.

Students and trainees learn our medical language through modeling, and through this teaching we're affecting the future care of our patients. Patients can also hear and now see the language used about them in clinical settings and through “open notes.” We have the opportunity to leverage this change to ensure our language is respectful, patient-centered and empowering.

Your Words Matter

There's no better time to reaffirm our commitment to excellent patient care, and to respectful treatment of every patient we serve. Our clinicians and leadership are deeply committed to these values. As we strive to advance equity for our patients and in our communities, it's essential that we rethink our use of potentially stigmatizing language.

By improving the language of all clinical and administrative members, we can demonstrate our leadership in providing patient-centered care.

How to Change the Narrative

As healthcare providers dedicated to providing quality care for all patients, we must be thoughtful about how our words can affect the patient’s experience in the healthcare system. An emerging body of literature demonstrates how our words impact provider, patient and public attitudes, affect a patient’s likelihood of accessing care and influence medical decision-making, such as pain management choices.

You have the power to change the narrative to enhance our patients’ experience. Here’s what you can do:

  1. Watch our training video.
  2. Download these reference sheets to keep in your office and clinical units:
  3. Pledge to hold your team members accountable and remind others about best practices in language choice.
  4. Share this information with clinical colleagues locally and nationally.

Further Reading