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Do names really hurt diabetes patients?

15 November 2017

Dr Linda Beeney has received funding to investigate the best way clinicians can communicate with diabetes patients.

Researchers from the University of Sydney have received $60,000 funding to investigate if the terminology used by clinicians when treating diabetes patients can impact their health.

The Australian Diabetes Educators Association has provided the funding over a 12 month period and it will be the first project to look at the direct emotional effects of the terms used by clinicians when speaking to people with diabetes.

Lead researcher, Dr Linda Beeney from Sydney Medical School says research into the terminology used to treat addictions indicates the language used by clinicians can impact patients.

Current opinion is that negative words and phrases include “diabetic”, “non-compliant” and “good blood glucose levels” while positive alternatives would include “person with Type 1 or type 2 diabetes”, “involved” and “blood glucose levels”.

“Previous research in the field of addiction medicine demonstrates negative and stigmatizing language influences treatment choices, reduces health professional empathy and leads to poorer patient outcomes,” says Dr Beeney.

“So far no studies have investigated the effect of negative language on diabetes health professional attitudes and behaviours. Similarly there is no published experimental research on the effects of negative diabetes language on people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.”

Dr Beeney says current diabetes language guidelines are based on clinical opinion rather than experimental evidence.

“At present there is no compelling data for clinicians involved in diabetes car and education to make the effort to change their language.”

“If the study hypothesis is confirmed with findings showing statistically and clinically significant emotional distress resulting from negative words and phrases, this will provide evidence to promote change and provide the basis for relatively simple and low cost interventions,” she says.

“How we talk to, and about, people with diabetes matters. People with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes feel stigmatized and judged across the world by the use of terms such as diabetic, non-compliant and failed. My research shows the media contributes to this diabetes distress through poorly chosen language and confusing messages.

“We want to help health professionals, the community and the media choose words wisely to support people living with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes based on solid research evidence.”

Elliott Richardson

Assistant Media Advisor (Medicine, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy)

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