How ER doctors communicate: A look inside a complex and fascinating lingo.
When doctors rapidly transition care from one doctor to the next, our jargon probably sounds like gibberish. It's not. It's an amazing language.
Recently, something unusual happened in the ER.
While I was one of two supervising physicians on site, the other doctor had to get in an ambulance to accompany a tenuous patient to our larger hospital, where the kind of specialist the patient urgently needed to see was in-house, 24-7.
Another doctor was scheduled to take over for my colleague shortly, but he wasn’t expected for another half hour. So, I had to take over the care of my colleagues’ patients until the relief arrived. (Had it been a longer stretch, we would have activated a backup doctor to come in. Fortunately, it wasn’t busy and it was safe for me to do this, especially with the team of experienced Physicians Assistants who were involved in the care of each of the patients.)
There was not much time. My colleague had to quickly transition around 10 patients from her care to mine. I printed out a list of the patients and scribbled notes down as she spoke to me, giving “signout.” For a moment, I stepped out of myself and listened to how we talk.
“This must sound like gibberish to the average person. But to us, it’s totally clear.”
It’s probably similar to when I’ve listened to the comms between air traffic control and the pilots on United Airlines’ “From the Fight Deck.” Ever listened to that? (Do they still have that?) Anyway, a lot of information gets packed into an extremely efficient lingo.
For example: "Cleared to New York Kennedy, Compton 3 Foxtrot departure, Squawk 6244, QNH 998 Hectopascals.”
Apparently, pilots know what to do with their gigantic aeroplanes when they hear these instructions, but it’s indecipherable to most of us, right?
When ER doctors talk, it’s just like that. Phrases that sound like word salad to you have clear meanings and even carry subtle connotations to us.
I’ve often wondered if people overhearing us talk can understand a thing we are saying. Well, now’s your chance to learn some ER jargon…
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