Forbidden Words for Healthcare Websites?

The Centers for Disease Control have been given a list of seven “forbidden words,” according to the Washington Post.  The taboo was apparently handed down by the federal Department of Health and Human Services, in preparation for budget requests. It has been suggested that HHS is giving the same list to other healthcare agencies.

Here are the words in question:

  • vulnerable
  • entitlement
  • diversity
  • transgender
  • fetus
  • evidence-based
  • science-based

Should you remove these words from your website?

The first question to consider is this: do you already have a policy about word use for your website? Your practice website probably already avoids words that your patients or clients might find offensive, such as obscenities, ethnic slurs, and sexist terms. This may be an unwritten understanding, or it might be laid out in your SOP manual.

Either way, you might be able to decide whether those seven terms are okay for your population based on the normal standards you use.

A quick Google search surprised me with the information that some people consider “fetus” offensive, as in, “The word ‘fetus’ is offensive, dehumanizing and manipulative.” Ditto for “transgender”: “Many transgender people consider the use of transgender (and similar adjectives) as a noun to be offensive, and several guides advise against such usage.” I even found objections to “entitlement” and “diversity.”

English has more words than any other language. You could certainly make a case for choosing some other word whenever a term is offensive or potentially offensive to anyone who is likely to visit your website.

I’m pretty sure that people who visit this website will not be offended by “evidence-based” or “science-based.” Our whole mission is to help our clients use data to make strategic decisions about their web presence. If you’re opposed to evidence, you’re in the wrong place.

So we’d suggest that you make decisions about which words to forbid your blogger based on the predictable reactions of your visitors.

So who are your visitors?

Some of the websites we write for are directed toward people in the federal government. If that’s true for your website, then you might want to avoid those words for the present.

After all, your website is about communication — with search engines and with human beings. Knowing your visitors well, whether you’re using personas or direct testing, is important.

Sometimes you want to make a point, and we respect that. We’re happy to help clients make philosophical points that are more important than shielding people’s feelings. If that’s not the issue, then it makes sense to eliminate words that your audience finds unacceptable.






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