Empowering Language in Healthcare - January 2021

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Empowering Language in Healthcare

By Jenn Bodine, DNP, FNP-C, NPD-BC, CEN

Words matter. The language we use in our communication can make or break a relationship, and health care is based on relationships with other healthcare professionals and patients. Last month, in the TrendLines book review, Leadership is Language, we discussed the importance of language and how leaders can use it to create an intent-based environment. This month we will explore Nursing2020’s nationwide survey “to determine what, if any, education nurses receive about communicating with patients” (Jones, p. 47, 2020). The survey had approximately 400 respondents who answered questions regarding programs, guidelines, and practices that address empowering language (Jones, 2020). “Empowering language refers to a person-first, strengths-based approach to discussing or talking with patients” (Jones, p. 47, 2020).

The survey results showed that most organizations do not offer written guidelines or programs addressing empowering language. The article also noted that the language used by healthcare professionals in the electronic health record (EHR) could establish a stigma that creates a negative impact on the patient. A study by Johns Hopkins showed that the type of language used in the EHR could determine the quality of care a patient receives (Johns Hopkins Medical, 2018). Therefore, it behooves healthcare organizations to focus on providing equitable, quality patient care to provide education and policies around empowering language.

The Nursing2020 article posed the question, “Who is responsible for providing this type of education?”. The appropriate answer would be the nursing professional development (NPD) practitioner. The Education Development Center (2017) provides tips to avoid stigmatizing language in substance abuse disorders. These tips can be translated to fit any clinical situation. Some of the tips center around using person-first language, avoiding fear-based language, avoiding colloquialisms, performing language audits, and seeking input from stakeholders. Providing education using these tips, NPD practitioners can be instrumental in ensuring an empowering language environment that improves patient care.


Education Development Center (2017). Words matter: how language choice can reduce stigma. https://preventionsolutions.edc.org/sites/default/files/attachments/Words-Matter-How-Language-Choice-Can-Reduce-Stigma.pdf.

Johns Hopkins Medical. (2018 May 9). Words matter: Stigmatizing language in medical records may affect the care a patient receives. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/newsroom/news-releases/words-matter-stigmatizing-language-in-medical-records-may-affect-the-care-a-patient-receives

Jones, M. (2020). Nursing2020 survey report: Empowering language in healthcare. Nursing, 50(12), 47-49.

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