Congestive heart failure (CHF) has shifted from a terminal diagnosis to a chronic disease. However, the nomenclature, specifically the inclusion of the term “failure”, leads patients to believe that the diagnosis is lethal and thus can cause anxiety and depression. Several cardiology foundations have called for a nomenclature change based on wide variations in pathophysiology of the disease and also on patient perceptions of the terminology (Patel et al. 2018; Stocker et al. 2017; Rogers et al. 2000; Tayler and Ogden 2005; Lehman et al. 2005). The purpose of this study was to gain further understanding of lay people’s perception of the disease congestive heart failure. Free listing interviews were conducted with 100 community members who were asked to list all thoughts and feelings regarding the term “congestive heart failure” and three other medical diagnoses. Data were cleaned and salience was derived using Smith’s S defined as: S = ((L − Rj + 1)/L)/N, where L is the length of each list, Rj is the rank of item J in the list, and N is the number of lists in the sample. Despite the fact that CHF, like high blood pressure or diabetes, is not a death sentence, terms like "death, severe, and fear" proved to be most salient when respondents were asked to reflect on "CHF". Contrasted to this were "diet, treatment, and family history" which were among the salient terms collected when respondents reflected on "diabetes or high blood pressure." Even though providers can help people process the diagnosis and defuse their immediate concerns, this study documents the impact language has on lay members of the community and supports a need for public health and healthcare professionals to address common perceptions of language.
Recommended CitationZuckerman, Yoni and Frasso, PhD, MSc, CPH, Rosemary, "Congestive Heart Failure: The Danger of Medical Jargon" (2020). Master of Public Health Capstone Presentations. Presentation 311.