What's in a word? AMA launches language guide for medical professionals

In an attempt to advance equity in healthcare, the American Medical Association has developed a health equity guide, released Oct 28. The guidebook addresses language use best practices and critical thinking about health narratives, and provides a glossary of terms. 

The playbook, titled "Advancing Health Equity: A Guide to Language, Narrative and Concepts," was developed in partnership with the Association of American Medical Colleges Center for Health Justice.

The guide was created to give physicians a common tongue with which to discuss issues pertaining to systemic inequality and educate them as to how these issues translate into a medical setting. It acknowledges the power of language and the potentially harmful underlying assumptions many common phrases and words hold. 

"We hope that this guide will stimulate critical thinking about language, narrative and concepts — helping readers to identify harmful phrasing in their own work and providing alternatives that move us toward racial justice and health equity," the guide states. 

The guide covers three major focus areas: health equity language, why narratives matter and a glossary of key terms. Together, knowledge of the three areas can enable medical professionals to be intentional when discussing and thinking about inequity and reframe traditional narratives. For instance, the guide suggests alternatives for commonly used phrases, such as using "formerly incarcerated" instead of "felon" and "white" over "Caucasian," and provides in-depth explanations for the change. It also provides definitions and historical context of words and phrases like "colorism," "queer" and "critical race theory." 

"The COVID-19 pandemic and the disproportionate impact of the virus on Black, Latinx, Indigenous and other historically marginalized groups have brought new urgency and focus to addressing long-standing inequities in health and health care," said Gerald Harmon, MD, president of AMA. "In recognizing the power in our words, it is our hope that this guide will stimulate conversation and understanding about language, narrative, and concepts"

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