What you say, what they see

One of my favorite stories about word choices is the one about the hospital that decided to open a walk-in clinic to compete with local freestanding clinics. The medical staffers who served on the hospital’s board chose to call it an “ambulatory” clinic, because to medical folks, “ambulatory” means that an individual is capable of walking.

The expected business didn’t materialize, and the hospital didn’t understand why consumers weren’t flocking through the doors. So they conducted a little bit of research and uncovered the reason: consumers saw the word “ambulatory” and assumed that it was intended for patients who arrived in ambulances.

They changed the name to something like “Rapid Care Clinic,” and hit their business targets in short order.

Of course, the medical world is full of confusing language. When a doctor tells you your test results are negative, is that a bad thing or a good thing? Should you be happy about a positive test, or should it terrify you? Practitioners know what they’re saying, but patients often don’t. Are there parallels in your own communication?