Buzzwords to Gravy Trains: Are You on the Bandwagon?

Remember when everything in healthcare had to be “evidence-based decision making”? Or how about when massive decisions were based on the “World Café” style of engagement? Remember when sick people were known as patients, not consumers?

While a lot of these buzzwords start with good intentions, it is important to take a moment to determine if an expression intended to capture a thought or new idea really deserves to change a program, practice or even a policy.

So much research and information are available regarding the pros and cons of using jargon or buzzwords. Most comes with the strong advice that we avoid using jargon altogether; to speak in plain English whenever possible. But sometimes a new phrase is needed to capture a new thought, or more often to describe how an idea or a concept from another industry can be applied to yours.

Evolving your work or organization by implementing new processes is not a bad thing, The “bad thing” happens when that process is captured by a phrase that now has the responsibility to mean the same thing in two different worlds, with different contexts, meanings, understandings, and results. Jargon happens when phrases try to be all things to all people. This is why so many resources, experts and leaders encourage you to avoid jargon at all costs.

But are there times when adopting buzzwords is important? Here are the times when jargon or getting on the buzzword bandwagon is important:

  1. When your organization or program is becoming more inclusive. If the new language results in human beings feeling safer, included, or cared for then adopt it.
  2. Does it fundamentally change the service you are offering? If the buzzword actually means doing something different for your patients or clients then, yes, there is something tactical about adopting the new words.
  3. When the optics of offering or adopting these buzzwords will get you more funding that will lead to better programming and service.

Knowing where your research, program or service is on the “current and sexy” jargon scale is important. You may be eligible for funding because you are doing something new, or because you have been doing something great for a long time and are now an expert. We know that certain funding pools require the use of the latest and greatest buzzwords. Whether you are at the beginning or end of a buzzword bandwagon can make the difference between expansion and roll-backs within a program or service delivery portfolio. As sad as this is, we know it’s true. If you can adopt these buzzwords, there is a greater chance the decision makers, media, researchers will, for a short time, believe they have a greater understanding of what you do, or that what you offer has greater value than it did before.

In fact, some may say that an organization has a certain level of responsibility to get on the buzzword bandwagon if it means securing funds, finding a champion, or bringing attention and raising awareness about your cause and program. As practitioners and care providers, we constantly walk that line between administrative duties and service delivery.

Think about using buzzwords and jargon by leveraging their newness, their use in media, at conferences and for funding programs. Being able to use buzzwords could be less of a bandwagon and more of a gravy train. If timed just right, it could even take things off your to-do list – like securing a budget for a much-needed item.

If your organization is switching from offering “patient-centric” services to offering “paramedicine”, it may mean you need to change your website and business cards. Will it change the way you offer core services? Likely not. A person who is in need doesn’t really care what you call them or yourselves for that matter, or if you are delivering patient-centric or paramedicine. They just want to feel better by using your service or program.

Want to see some REAL jargon? Check out these online generators and you’ll know what NOT to do!

Consider: What are some of the buzzwords in your field? What words have influenced your practice? What buzzwords created a stir but left as quickly?