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Metaphorical Medicine: Using Metaphors To Enhance Communication with Patients Who Have Pulmonary Disease

Alejandro C. Arroliga, MD; Sara Newman, PhD; David L. Longworth, MD; and James K. Stoller, MD, MS
[+] Article, Author, and Disclosure Information

Requests for Single Reprints: James K. Stoller, MD, MS, Department of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, A90, The Cleveland Clinic Foundation, 9500 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44195; e-mail, stollej@ccf.org.

Current Author Addresses: Drs. Arroliga, Longworth, and Stoller: Cleveland Clinic Foundation, 9500 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44106.

Dr. Newman: Department of English, Kent State University, PO Box 5190, Kent, OH 44242-0001.

Ann Intern Med. 2002;137(5_Part_1):376-379. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-137-5_Part_1-200209030-00037
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Although the importance of enhancing communication with patients has been emphasized and is the subject of recent editorial reminders (1), little formal attention has been given to the way pulmonary physicians speak with patients regarding the underlying nature of their chest illnesses or the rationale, risks, or benefits of treatment. In many forums, including business (23), education (45), politics (6), and medicine (715), using metaphors has been advocated as a way to enhance teaching and communication and as a means to achieve better insight into institutional character. Derived from the Greek root “metapheiren” meaning “willing to transfer” and defined as a “figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them” (16), metaphors can facilitate communication because they render new concepts in familiar terms.

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