When I was (considerably) younger, I read that a concert I wanted to attend was “SRO.” I was certain that meant “Sold Right Out,” and there was no way we could go. I was disappointed, but hey, you can’t win them all. Years later a friend told me another show was “SRO,” and I only then found out it meant “Standing Room Only.” My misunderstanding became the source of much merriment.
Industry-specific terms, acronyms and lingo are common in almost every business. I know the health insurance business has a lot, but have you ever heard two electricians talk? What about computer repair technicians? It’s all foreign to me.
Terminology, acronyms, and lingo are simply shortcuts for information-sharing between people in the same business. They are not meant to exclude others, but they do. The difference between the terms “copayment” and “coinsurance” can seem small, unless you are the person paying the bill. So, what can we insiders do to lessen the impact and be more inclusive?
About two years ago, Health Alliance started an internal plain language push. We took a close look at our written materials—brochures, guidebooks, letters, our website, and more—and realized we could make things easier to understand. We simplify or explain industry lingo, without losing the important information.
If you’re on the receiving end of lingo, stop and ask for clarification. If that is not possible, jot down a note so you can follow up on your own. This is especially important with your health care. Make sure you understand what your doctors tell you. They are insiders to the medical world, so they might not realize you need more explanation. Always ask questions if you’re confused. Your doctor will appreciate you taking the time to make sure you understand so you can take good care of yourself.
I am sure some of you are frightened to know I am learning how to text on my smartphone. Many of you are familiar with this digital language and its acronyms and lingo, but it’s new to me. Don’t worry, I was pointedly told “LOL” doesn’t mean “lots of love.” LAL (Live and Learn).
(Give this word search on commonly used insurance terms and their definitions a try!)
Patrick Harness is a community liaison with a long history of experience in health insurance. If you ask him to pick a color, he always chooses orange, and he is known for his inability to parallel park.