Medical terms and concepts: differences in scope for physicians and nurses
The purpose of this study is to examine the various conceptualizations of heart failure (HF) among healthcare specialists (doctor and nurses), by looking at language variation in their descriptions of HF that might signify different understandings of the treatment of HF patients, though both are involved in multidisciplinary health care.
This research is a sociocognitive study of the term heart failure (HF). It is designed to explore its complexity as a unit of understanding (Temmerman, 2000a) in the conceptual similarities and differences evident in the discourse of physicians and nurses responsible for the treatment and care of HF patients. The data comes from parallel corpora of research articles written by doctor-led and nurse-led teams, which are consulted by their peers to inform their everyday decision-making in evidence-based medicine.
Linguistic analysis of the corpus data on heart failure uses concordancing and lexical statistics to examine the various collocational patterns associated with it, and alternative terminologies that provide insights into the conceptualization of HF by doctors and nurses. This is coupled with semantic analysis of its intra- and intercategorial relations in the discourse of the two corpora.
The results highlight major differences in the lexical relations for heart failure within the two corpora. In the doctors’ corpus, it associated mostly with negative words, and with concepts of high mortality, healthcare costs and multi-comorbidity. By contrast the nurses’ corpus produced some positive, more motivating, family-orientated and community focused phrases such as positively influence the adoption of health-promoting behaviours and influenced family relationships and bonding. Nurses view both the severity of heart failure and patients’ cognitive capacity while doctors tend to focus on severity of disease.
The results thus show that medical practitioners see their role as confined to biomedical care, with little sign of being involved in patients’ self-care education and support – even though these are supposed to be shared roles and responsibilities in multidisciplinary care in medical practice. The doctor’s and nurse’s units of understanding for heart failure are quite disparate. The research demonstrates the value of a descriptive approach to medical terminology in the context of multidisciplinary health care – and its effectiveness in embracing the various components of a medical syndrome.