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Against diagnosis
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  • Published on:
    Language Matters
    • Martin Whyte, Consultant Physician & Clinical Senior Lecturer University of Surrey
    • Other Contributors:
      • Debbie Cooke, Psychologist and Reader in Health Psychology

    The article by Launer [1] raises the issue as to whether diagnostic labels are to be avoided as they can be stigmatising and judgemental. Within the article, the term ‘patient’ was used to convey the individual in receipt of the diagnosis. In recent years it has been suggested that ‘patient’ itself be avoided - as it can imply passivity in the face of the medical profession [2]. The word derives from the latin patiens, which means suffering; but also acquiescing, allowing and submitting. This latter connotation implies that a patient ‘receives’ the diagnosis - rather than being empowered to work with the doctor towards a meaningful interpretation of their symptoms and/or resolution of them. Use of the term ‘patient’ by healthcare workers may then lead to the medicalisation of thought towards the individual (semantic determinism). Conversely, surveys have suggested that people prefer to be called a patient [3]. This may reflect the lack of adequate alternative descriptors. To be a ‘patient’ may also be advantageous as it will then clarify to the health care professional and the legal system, the unique obligation they have to that individual. Perhaps, as with ‘diagnosis’, we should seek permission from the individuals themselves whether to refer to them as patients?

    1. Launer J. Postgrad Med J. 2021 Jan;97(1143):67-68. doi: 10.1136/postgradmedj-2020-139298.
    2. Cooper A., Kanumilli N., Hill J., Holt R.I.G et al. Diabetic Medicine. Language matters. Addressin...

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    Conflict of Interest:
    None declared.