Aims and objectives. To research the use of ambiguous language in written information concerning patients' functioning and to identify problems resulting from the use of ambiguous language in clinical practice.
Background. Many projects that aimed to introduce standard terminology concerning patients' functioning in clinical practice are unsuccessful because standard terminology is rarely used in clinical practice. These projects mainly aim to improve communication by reducing ambiguous language. Considering their lack of success, the validity of the argument that language ambiguity is used in clinical practice is questioned.
Design. An integrative literature review.
Methods. A systematic search of the MEDLINE (1950-2012) and CINAHL (1982-2012) databases was undertaken, including empirical and theoretical literature. The selected studies were critically appraised using a data assessment and extraction form.
Results. Seventeen of 767 papers were included in the review and synthesis. The use of ambiguous language in written information concerning patients' functioning was demonstrated. Problems resulting from the use of ambiguous language in clinical practice were not identified. However, several potential problems were suggested, including hindered clinical decision-making and limited research opportunities.
Conclusion. The results of this review demonstrated the use of ambiguous language concerning patients' functioning, but health professionals in clinical practice did not experience this issue as a problem. This finding might explain why many projects aimed at introducing standard terminology concerning functioning in clinical practice to solve problems caused by ambiguous language are often unsuccessful. Language ambiguity alone is not a valid argument to justify the introduction of standard terminology.
Relevance to clinical practice. The introduction of standard terminology concerning patients' functioning will only be successful when clinical practice requires the aggregation and reuse of data from electronic patient records for different purposes, including multidisciplinary decision-making and research.
- literature review
- INTERNATIONAL CLASSIFICATION
- NURSING INFORMATION
- UNIFORM TERMINOLOGY