Buzzword Bingo – Healthcare Semantics


Recently I noticed an increasing amount of buzzwords floating around the news, in magazines, in startup announcements, in blogs, in marketing collateral, during medical conferences, and on the Twitterverse specific to healthcare.

It is a lot of buzzwords. A lot glitter. A lot of terms that really do not effectively communicate reality. I created my own game called buzzword bingo. I count the number of words  strung together in a single sentence to sound important and yet mean nothing at all.

Terms like ‘patient – centered care,’ ‘centers of excellence,’ ‘best practice,’ and ‘patient engagement of empowerment.’

Minute by minute there is a new buzzword attached to a topic or technology or a patient. Honestly, while it may help in gaining more clicks, shares, or re-tweets I question the value it adds to the dialogue?

To patients.

Does a patient really become “empowered” just because you slap it in front of a title or technology? Shouldn’t care always be about the patient? Seriously, like wtf?

It reminds me of a quote by one of my favorite fictional characters, Hank Moody, in which he says the following:

“…the fact that people seem to be getting dumber and dumber. I mean we have all this amazing technology and yet computers have turned into basically four figure wank machines. The internet was supposed to set us free, democratize us, but all it’s really given us is Howard Dean’s aborted candidacy and 24 hour a day access to kiddie porn. People… they don’t write anymore, they blog. Instead of talking, they text, no punctuation, no grammar: LOL this and LMFAO that. You know, it just seems to me it’s just a bunch of stupid people pseudo-communicating with a bunch of other stupid people at a proto-language that resembles more what cavemen used to speak than the King’s English.”

I know this may seem a bit harsh, but if we want patients to take an active role in their care, shouldn’t we start by telling them that first and foremost, that it is THEIR decision? Shouldn’t we give them all of the information, both good and bad, in an unbiased manner? If we are not transparent in the information, can patients really make an ‘informed decision?’

If words build worlds, and patients trust us with their lives, then shouldn’t we simplify the language? Shouldn’t we mean what we say and know what the hell we are talking about?

Think about the term ‘engagement.’ It is defined as an appointment or an arrangement; betrothal; an encounter, conflict or battle.

Why are we placing ownership on the patients? Patients already made the choice to come see you for their care. They are trusting you with their life. They are deciding to give their money to you.

Perhaps what patients need in this example is a bit of transparency, management in transition of care, and your time so that they continue to trust you.

Since I enjoy studying semantics, let me rant for a moment….

Maybe it is more about collaboration? Maybe what healthcare really wants are cooperative patients? Or maybe healthcare simply wants compliance?

It reminded me of an article Edward Bukstel (@ebuktstel)¬† shared from the Washington Post entitled, “List: Ban ‘echo chamber,’ ‘post-truth,’ ‘bigly,’ and ‘dadbod'”.


An annual List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness curated by the Northern Lake Superior State University.

I began to ask myself what are the commonly misused, overused, or useless words in healthcare? What would a healthcare list look like if we were to curate it over several months?

I reached out to fellow colleague Christoph Trappe (@CTrappe) and asked him to collaborate on a healthcare list. Christoph agreed and was eager to share some of his thoughts on words needing to be added to the list of ‘Uselessness’ in healthcare. Christoph mentions that some of these words may be useful to someone, but they could be improved for the patient (aka consumer).

Words such as:

Multi-disciplinary, Innovative, Precision Medicine, State of the Art, Board Certified, The best, Provider, World class, and my favorite…Personalized Patient Care.

So, as we begin 2017, let’s start noticing the words that are overused, misused, are generally useless, and are nothing more than a bunch of buzzwords.

I encourage everyone to identify healthcare word(s) that you believe should be collated and added to a list.

Tweet them along with the following hashtag: #healthcaresemantics

Feel free to add comments to further explain your point of view.

Healthcare happens at the N of 1. (that isn’t a buzzword, it’s a fact)

As always you can feel free to email me at or follow me on Twitter @cancergeek


Authority Or Responsibility?


A few weeks ago during a question and answer session of a speaking engagement I was asked the following question: “What happens if I do not have the authority to make those decisions?”

I love this question, so I figured I would share my take on it with the broader audience.

People are often waiting to be given the “authority” or the power to make decisions. This is often used as an excuse, or a way of letting ourselves off the hook for not making a decision, making a change, or performing a task.

I do not have the authority, so I do not have to do anything about it.

Authority in many organizations resides at the top and cascades down. This structure allows for decisions to be made and for workers/people to be compliant to follow those decisions.

As long as we follow the decisions and directions, we keep our jobs.

Few of us will ever have the “authority” or be close enough to the top to make decisions in which people must comply with in order to be paid.

Forget about authority. Seek responsibility.

Responsibility is abundant. There is more than enough laying around for any of us to pick up and take.

Each of us has an opportunity on a daily basis to do something that requires us to be accountable, answerable, and responsible for doing something. It can be writing a letter, it can be guiding a patient to a waiting room, it can be answering a phone, it can be changing a workflow, it can be staying late to help transition care between shifts.

No one is asking us to do it. No one told us we must do it. It may not be written down in a job description, or a process improvement, or in a manual. It may not have been done before. It may not be something that we are paid to do. It may be risky. It may be weird. It may be odd.

It may also be the one thing that changes the perception for a patient. A family member. A physician.

Each of us has the ability to take responsibility. To do something.

If it succeeds, spread that acknowledgement around. Share it with others on your team. Commend others for the success. If it fails, stand up and take accountability for your decisions to act. Claim ownership for trying something different.

The more times we take responsibility the more people will realize that we are here to lead.

Leadership is not about a title , or the top of the organizational chart, or having authority.

Leadership is about taking responsibility.

I take responsibility at the N of 1.

As always you can feel free to email me at or follow me on Twitter @cancergeek