Lights out for doctors' slang

MICHELLE DUFF AND BRONWYN TORRIE
Last updated 05:00 15/02/2011

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The privacy commissioner has welcomed the demise of derogatory "doctors' slang", saying medical practitioners need to be much more aware that what they are writing may be seen by patients.

Doctors have long written acronyms on patients' files, including FLK for funny-looking kid, DGT (drunk, got thumped), LOBNH (lights on but nobody home) and Father Ted, to describe a confused elderly patient.

But the slang is expected to become extinct once medical files are stored on a national electronic system.

Auckland Women's Health Council co-ordinator Lynda Williams was astounded the slang was still an issue, as she believed it had been phased out two decades ago.

"Following the Cartwright inquiry and the increase of patients accessing their medical files and all the hoo-ha around that, I believed that doctors were discouraged from that practice."

In a 2003 paper entitled Medical Slang in British Hospitals, British surgeon Adam Fox identified a list of terms, among them "ex-arbor" (out of their tree) and "oligoneuronal" (not too smart). But the practice began to wane as the threat of litigation increased, he said. Also, some doctors were censoring their notes for fear of having to read them out in court and explain the acronyms.

Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff said yesterday that, as information became widely shared and available in electronic form, and by request under the Privacy or Official Information acts, doctors were increasingly having to keep their "humorous comments" to themselves.

"I think people need to keep the humour in their lives ... but respect for patients is a really important part of the practice. I'm sure doctors want their patients to trust them."

Wellington GP Chris Kalderimis said he was aware of cases of slang use, but had not seen it in general practice for many years.

Terms such as FLK were not always used mean-spiritedly, he said. "It would be if you were looking at a child and you were concerned that something wasn't genetically right with that child ... it was a way to alert yourself that `there might be something wrong here'."

Rotorua GP Harry Pert said the passing of doctors' slang showed how society had moved on.

Medical notes had changed hugely, to the point where some United States surgeries were emailing patients their consultation notes after their visit. "We're not yet in that space, but it shows the direction we'll be travelling."

Emailing consultations and online note-sharing between health professionals were also expected to be not too far away.

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- The Dominion Post

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