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Correcting malapropisms: strategies to bridge cultural and socioeconomic gaps

Israel Berger (Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia)
John A. Cartmill (Australian School of Advanced Medicine, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia)

International Journal of Human Rights in Healthcare

ISSN: 2056-4902

Article publication date: 8 May 2017




Although patients and lay people are often more knowledgeable about medical conditions than their predecessors, the dominant culture’s increased involvement in understanding their health and making treatment decisions does not translate into consistently more informed patients. High health literacy is associated with both improved health outcomes and receiving better quality-of-care. Low health literacy disproportionately affects people from marginalized ethnic and language groups. Regardless of how a particular clinician feels about a patient, malapropisms and mis-attributions may cause patients to appear less intelligent or to have lower perceived health literacy, potentially affecting their healthcare experiences with other clinicians. The paper aims to discuss these issues.


This paper discusses the evidence for “up-skilling” patients and uses principles from conversation analysis to demonstrate how malapropisms can be corrected sensitively. Clinician training in skilled communication using the conversation analytic role-play method is also addressed.


Malapropisms are best corrected through modelling rather than calling attention to the error directly, as this allows the patient to save face. Explanations using drawings and clearly written materials may also be useful.


Helping patients to improve their communication with clinicians may lead to improved health outcomes through improved quality-of-care.



The authors have no conflicts of interest or funding to disclose.


Berger, I. and Cartmill, J.A. (2017), "Correcting malapropisms: strategies to bridge cultural and socioeconomic gaps", International Journal of Human Rights in Healthcare, Vol. 10 No. 2, pp. 84-94.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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