Sunday, 12 July 2015

Business language in a public service NHS is wrong

One of the first things to get right in the NHS is the language. Perhaps the use of wrong language is the expression of some fundamental misunderstanding of the way the NHS works.

First thing to understand is that the NHS is not a business. It is a publicly funded and mostly publicly delivered service. So the NHS has to stop using the terms and language of business.

Let us look at the terms profit and loss. Why would the NHS use those terms? The terms to use are surplus and deficit. NHS uses things like trading account, when it actually does not trade in anything. NHS staff including clinical staff in their ‘management’ courses are taught how to write a business plan. Why? Why should people in an organisation that is actually not doing business know or write a business plan? They should be writing a service development or service improvement plan which is totally different from a business plan. The aim of a business plan is to generate a profit. The aim of a service development or service improvement plan is self-explanatory. A primary aim of business is to be profitable – get a return on investment. A secondary aim of a public service healthcare organisation is to stay within budget.

A private company’s money is from its sales, the NHS does not sell anything, NHS money is derived from a budget. Technically when sales generate more money than how much the product or service costs then the private company makes a profit and in theory the profits are unlimited. The NHS money is from an allocated budget, if less money than the allocated budget is spent then a surplus is generated – by definition the surplus is limited, very limited.

When a private company sells less or at a price less than what it takes them to make the product or deliver the service then the company makes a loss. By definition this loss is limited to the capital of the company (for limited companies). When the NHS spends more money than its allocated budget then a deficit (not a loss) happens, this money is spent for keeping the health of the population and hence in theory it is unlimited (as a public funded service the government can print money) though in practice a line will be drawn somewhere when the service is delivered differently, perhaps inadequately.

For a private company the theoretical profits are unlimited and for a public service like the NHS the theoretical surplus is limited. For a private company the losses are limited and for a public service like the NHS the deficit in theory can be unlimited. Some NHS managers many not know or understand this, many do – yet the language of profit and loss are used. Wrong language leads to wrong attitudes and wrong expressions.

Sales for a private company can be very variable from day to day, week to week, month to month, yet to year. Budgets vary too but not that much. In fact budgets are assured though the amount can vary. Every NHS clinical organisation can be assured that they will get some budgeted amount next year, simply because their catchment population’s need remain, irrespective of what the organisation is called, how it is structured or who runs it.

The fundamentals are different between a business and government organisation. The reasons, attitudes are different, the methods are different, the language should be different. Yet the business language is used in the NHS. When a business language is used, business attitudes kick in. When a public service is run like a business yet the funding/accounting principles are different people do not know where to stop. People think by making a surplus they are getting bigger and better, they often do not. People by not calling it a deficit and not call it a loss when they make a loss and yet they do not really go out of ‘business’ or ‘existence’ they do not realise when to stop. The ability to recognise a good or a bad idea gets distorted at the best or lost. That is exactly what has happened to NHS managers – wrong language leading to wrong thinking leading to an inability to recognise good, bad, right, wrong. It is like a hypoxic pilot in free fall.

Let us get the language right. The language influences understanding which impacts on attitudes. Get the language wrong and the path towards disaster is established with the inability to recognise it till it is too late.

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Monday, 6 July 2015

Is there an ethics deficit in the delivery of healthcare?

Ethics of quality in Healthcare Delivery

Is there is an ethics deficit in the delivery of healthcare?

Ethics are paramount in clinical research. Currently there is emerging requirement for ethical values and oversight of quality improvement projects. However, it seems unclear if strong ethical principles underpin the delivery of routine healthcare. By routine delivery of healthcare I mean activities such as scheduling/rescheduling appointments, communication methods when non-clinical staff are dealing with patients, staffing levels (numbers, skill mix, acuity matching,etc) and similar. I also mean most of strategy, planning and operations at the provider level.

It is well recognised that it is the huge variation in processes of care delivery results in large disparities in healthcare outcomes. I subscribe to the view that it is not the science or the individual that causes bad results; it is the vagaries of the processes of care delivery that causes poor outcomes.

Policy making is subject to ethical ideas that are broadly utilitarian. Individuals are also subject to ethical principles. Ethics for healthcare professionals especially doctors are specifically person centric irrespective of whether they are individual professionals or patients. Between policy and individuals lies the system, group or team, whose operations are not in reality tested against ethical principles. There seems no clear group based ethics on which care can be delivered though there are innumerable rule based arrangements that seem not to satisfy the cause of quality in healthcare delivery.

In other words, individuals are held to account for quality deficits using ethical principles- groups and systems are not. A group of individuals who practise sound ethical principles do not constitute a ‘group ethic’. The lack of group ethics seems to be preventing known good outcomes from being achieved.

How can this quality gap due to the variation of processes and outcomes be assigned with relevant ethical principles or frameworks with a view to resolving them?

My main argument would be that it is unethical not to aim to achieve or not to achieve a desired result:
-          in the absence of any material restricting factors and
-          when the knowledge and methods have been described and publicly available

However, since medical ethics is effectively applicable to individuals and other ethical theories are applicable to policy making, there seems either a lack of ethical theory/reasoning or a lack of application of ethical theories to understand the ethicality of group operations in healthcare delivery.

My assumption is when the issue of ethics for operational groups who are implementing care delivery are defined, available and clarified a contextual framework could become available to bridge the quality delivery gap where healthcare delivery outcome deficits can be seen as ethical deficits; thus ethics becoming a powerful lever in ensuring highest known optimum outcomes.

The utilitarian policy making at one end, with medical ethics (a mixed application of various basic principles) at the other end, seems not be served very well by the current version of possibly deontological 'operations'. Is that the case? If that was the case, how do we resolve it?


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Friday, 5 June 2015

MSc in Healthcare Improvement Leadership

Applications are now open for the second cohort of the MSc in Healthcare Improvement Leadership starting in October 2015.  This is a bespoke programme that has been developed jointly between University of Hull (Faculty of Health Sciences) Hull University Business School and Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals and is open to all Healthcare Professionals.  

The first cohort (a mixture of clinical and non-clinical staff) have reported that the programme is “interesting, enjoyable and thought-provoking” as well as “blowing my mind with different perspectives of quality”

If you are interested in being a part of the second cohort and for further information please contact:-
Tracey Heath – Director of Enterprise
University of Hull 01482464519

Further information:

MSc in Healthcare Improvement Leadership

A unique opportunity has arisen to undertake a Masters in Healthcare Improvement
Leadership at Hull University. This MSc programme is developed jointly between Hull
University, Hull Business School and Hull and East Yorkshire NHS Trust. This programme is
open to all healthcare professionals from primary, secondary and other health care sectors.
- To provide the participants with theoretical and practical understanding of the
concepts of quality improvement in healthcare delivery
- To equip the participants with practical tools to enable quality improvement
- To equip the participants with the attitude and ability to be a leader of healthcare
quality improvement
- To explore the links between evidence, experts, experience, policy and practice.
- To understand the relationship between quality and cost
- To understand the concepts of shared baselines, local clinical protocols and the
improvement method
- To understand the modelling of the process of quality improvement
- To review tools available for healthcare delivery improvement
- To understand the relevance of measurement in improvement and to learn about
the tools to do so
- To understand the various kinds of leadership that brings about the preferred
response from colleagues using a selection of human factors and communication
methods thus defining the human face of quality improvement leadership
- To appreciate the importance of learning from immediate peers and colleagues.
Attendance Requirement
There will be 10 contact classes in the first year which participants are required to attend.
Other aspects of the course will be delivered by a combination of e-learning and support as
Modular progression
At the successful completion of first year there will be the option to take the qualification of
Certificate in Healthcare Improvement Leadership and to progress to a Diploma and Masters


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Declaration of interest: I teach some parts of the course. No current financial interest.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Colonoscopy Pain Score - How I do it

Colonoscopy is often a painful procedure – the duration of the pain or the intensity of it varies from patient to patient and for the same patient for procedure done at different times. The pain also depends on operator experience. What goes on in the patient’s life external to their physical/mental health also plays a part in the patient’s behavioural interaction during endoscopy. Hence, there are patient factors, endoscopist factors and environmental factors at play.

Assessing the pain during the procedure is the responsibility of the endoscopists and the endoscopy nurses. Endoscopy nurses are thought to be a ‘third party’ in terms of assessing patient comfort. The patient comfort assessment takes the form of the Gloucester score. 

The Gloucester Scale takes into account the frequency and duration of discomfort and any distress it might cause the patient; it is often reported as
Comfortable – talking / comfortable throughout
Minimal – 1 or 2 episodes of mild discomfort without distress
Mild – more than 2 episodes of discomfort without distress
Moderate – significant discomfort experienced several times with some distress
Severe – frequent discomfort with significant distress
Numerical rating of 0 to 4 are assigned for the above.

The difficulty for colonoscopists and endoscopy nurses is that the Gloucester scoring scale is subjective and acts as a post-event record rather than an intra-procedure guide. In other words how to decide on how to score and while the patient is having a particular score during the procedure what to do about it? The scoring system, I feel, is currently is static and slightly retrospective. A scoring system, in my view, should be current and a guide to action.

At a human emotional level the idea that a medical procedure could cause or causes distress (defined as extreme anxiety, sorrow or pain) in a patient is something that is very difficult to cope for most clinical practitioners in healthcare. It would be better for any assessment or score of such distress to be defined (parametered) and linked to action so as to help the practitioner. This is probably the intention of the Gloucester score anyway but it is not explicit from the scoring system chart or table.

As an endoscopist I reflect on how and why I have been scoring patients the way I do and this is what I find myself doing.

0 – No pain Comfortable – no visible evidence, if conversational no change in tone or speed of conversation

1 – Minimal pain – facial changes such as crease lines, licking the lips, pursing the lips, in white patient’s skin turning pink or red. If conversational, tone of voice changes or conversation transiently stops. There may be changes in the breathing but difficult to detect. Patient does not complain explicitly.

2 – Mild pain – facial and audible changes (grimace, moan, groan, sigh)  Conversation stops for a longer period. Vocally mentions (not complains) about discomfort Slight holding of breath Conversation restarts with reassurance

3 – Moderate pain – Patient asks you to stop temporarily due to pain. Patient explicitly states that they have pain. There is a needed top up of IV medication. If Entonox is used, then having to wait for pain to pass and the patient to give permission before continuing procedure again. Needing to change position to resolve or reduce pain. Patient withdraws consent due to a combination of predominantly anxiety and less predominantly pain (pre-existing anxiety must be present preferably with evidence such as tachycardia on admission or pre-procedure or patient explicitly expressed anxiety, or on regular medication for anxiety).

4 – Severe pain – Pain after iv top up medication, attempts to unloop, changes of patient position or (especially if Entonox) several patient guided stop-starts.  Patient withdraws consent due to pain and the procedure is abandoned. Simple reason, if the patient is in severe pain we have no business to continue.

In practice, there is no difference between 0 and 1 i.e. no pain and minimal pain; once a scope is inserted and insufflation begins there is some degree of discomfort and pain is bound to happen and at the level of 0 or 1 it simply means that the patient is not concerned about it. No reassurance is needed for the purpose of pain.

In practice if reassurance is needed, offered and sufficient to continue the procedure after a patient mention or staff recognition of pain then it is mild pain.

If the patient shows features of what is assessed as moderate pain then top up intravenous medication is given or if Entonox wait till patient gives permission to proceed. For the purpose of scoring if top up intravenous medication was given or in the case of Entonox if there was a need to wait for the patient to permit explicitly to proceed then it is scored as moderate pain. If the patient withdraws consent due to mostly anxiety (on the assumption that however anxious the patient having started the procedure pain would be a trigger to withdraw consent and probably not just anxiety alone) then the scoring would still be ‘moderate’ pain.

If the patient is in severe pain the procedure is abandoned (and for the purposes off scoring, if procedure had to be stopped due to pain then it is severe pain)

This is the way I use a broadly subjective retrospective pain score into a mostly objective intra-procedure guide by a hopefully logical three way dynamic link of defined parameters, action taken and score.

Parameter (Observed)
Parameter (expressed)
No pain

Complete procedure
Facial creasing, pursing lips, change in tone of voice, transient stop in conversation. No verbal complaint.

Complete Procedure
Grimace, moan, groan, sigh. Breath holding. Verbally mentions pain (but not as ‘complaint’)

Complete procedure with reassurance
All of the above and need to change position
All of above and patient explicitly complains of pain with a need to stop procedure temporarily.

Complete procedure with additional medication

Anxiety explicitly stated on admission
Taking medication for anxiety
Physical features of anxiety eg. tachycardia
Patient withdraws consent due to a predominance of anxiety made worse by pain
Abandon procedure (after additional medication was tried)
Pain not relieved by top-up iv medication
Pain not relieved by change of positions and attempted unlooping. If Entonox, then Pain not relieved by waiting for patient to guide us to proceed.
Patient withdraws consent
Abandon procedure

By having a link between observable defined parameters and scoring I feel I am reducing my potential bias in the manner I might score. By linking score parameters to action I feel I further reduce the bias, I also feel this is able to offer better decision making for myself. A pre-defined parameter-outcome link makes operational sense and ensures ease of process.

These are all based on self-reflection and observation of my own practice, I did not set out to practice this way, I observed that I am practicing in this manner.

Then there is an issue of ensuring a better patient memory of the procedure irrespective of how uncomfortable the procedure actually was. This is achieved by slow withdrawal, in addition I have already written about the explicit use of humour if possible and appropriate, this is important for all the scores.

Perhaps all endoscopists are already doing this, may be not explicitly, in which case this was my excuse to write a blog.


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Sunday, 29 March 2015

Narayana Health - A company to watch

In its website Narayana Health (NH) states it is ‘Amongst top 50 local dynamos of the world’ (

NH’s growth is phenomenal from 225 beds in 2000 in Bangalore to 7500 beds in 2014 in 29 hospitals across 17 cities. NH wants to grow to 30000 beds by 2018. NH has a project stated to be worth $2billion over 15 years in the Cayman Islands in association with an American non-profit partner for the purposes of medical tourism style of healthcare services.  (Cayman Island has a population of approximately 57000 with the financial services industry seemingly as its main economic activity and the world’s second most significant tax haven as per Wikipedia)

In percentage terms for the number of beds is 3333% growth in 14 years which is 238% growth each year.

With that kind of growth no wonder JP Morgan and Pinebridge invested $100million for a 25% stake in the company (  ). There are news reports that they are now looking to exit.

Narayana Hrudayalaya Private Limited (NHPL) is a company with a subscribed capital of Rs 3,000,000,000.00 ($48million) and a paid up capital of Rs 3,457,530.00 ($55000) according to their last balance sheet of 31/03/2014 filed with the Indian government. NHPL has ‘charge amount secured’ as charges registered in the MCA government of India website Rs 2,005,500,000.00 ($31million) to Indian financial companies. In other words it seems like NHPL has Rs 200crores of secured loans for Rs 34 lakhs worth of paid up capital. This company has many of its stakeholders’ representatives as directors.

There is also another private limited company called Narayana Hrudayalaya Surgical Hospital Private Limited (NHSHPL) with authorised capital 50,000,000.00; paid up capital of Rs 27,027,040.00; charge amount secured Rs 541,238,215.00 In other words Rs 54crores of secured loans for a paid up capital of Rs2.7crores.

Narayana Hrudayala’s quoted profit is about 8% which is decent but not probably good enough for some.  At a capex of Rs 17.5lakhs per bed their 7500 beds would result in assets of Rs 13,125,000,000 (about $211million). However, they have already stated they are trying an asset light model, where the asset belongs to someone else and Narayana Health provides operations.

The $100million private equity investment for the 25% stake of the company would put NHPL’s value at $400million. Perhaps there are other constructs/structures/vehicles that relates to these numbers quoted in the press.  However, the subscribed capital of the company is $48million. Narayana Health website in its disclaimer, terms and conditions and copyright all refers to Narayana Hrudayalaya Private Limited, so for the purposes of this write up I am assuming that they are indeed referring to NHPL. NHPL has a variety of stakeholders including private equity representatives on its board; NHSHPL has only Dr Shetty and a couple of others on the board. As an industry watcher, I am not interested in the nitty gritty of their financial architecture. I am interested in how successful they will be in the medium and longer term.

NH and Dr Devi Shetty are known for their low cost model of private healthcare, their large scale operations and mega ambition. They have not accessed the public with a share offering yet. Their models have also been criticised ( ) There is definitely something exciting happening with NH, time will tell us whether that excitement is positive. Time will tell us whether their debt will negatively affect them, or if their assets will sustain them, or a share offering will boost them. Time will also tell if their model of innovation would be successful.

Irrespective of whether one is interested in finance, healthcare, innovation, politics, off-shore investments, medical tourism or any combination of these, Narayana Health is a company to watch.


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PS: Narayana Health and its growth fascinates me and reminds me of Apollo Hospitals in its rapid growth phase. The above information is gleaned and presented from internet searches. I will be happy to correct, amend or post additional information if that was necessary.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

The Evolution of Language and its Impact on Racism

The Evolution of Language and its Impact on Racism

Some normal innocent original words took new meanings and won’t go away. It blights us today.

A muse on the four words, Fair, Black, Dark and White
(All etymology used in this essay is from Online Etymology Dictionary )


Whenever we see injustice, someone or a group of persons negatively affected due to no fault of theirs we claim it is unfair, we then want to fight for fairness and we want a fair society.

Fair in this context means equitable and free from bias.

Let us look at the evolutions of the word ‘fair’. 

Originally the old original English meaning was ‘beautiful’ 'pleasing to sight, attractive' and similar; it also referred to good weather.  Then around the 1200 the word fair included references to 'light skinned people'. Are you beginning to see where we are going with this? The gradual slow association between pleasing to sight, attractiveness to lighter skin. Then by 1300 the word fair begins to be associated with "according with propriety; according with justice," and also refers good/auspicious and by 1400s it refers to "equitable, impartial, just, free from bias". From 1860 it refers to "comparatively good."

So the history of the word fair starts with beautiful which gets linked to light skinned persons, begins to refer also to justice and then good. 

Fair - white skin – just/unbiased – good 

That is the sequence associations of the evolution of the word fair.


Let us now look at the word dark
The online Etymology dictionary says ‘Old English deorc "dark, obscure, gloomy; sad, cheerless; sinister, wicked," from Proto-Germanic *derkaz (cognates: Old High German tarchanjan "to hide, conceal"). "Absence of light" especially at night. Another old English link was darkly which meant horrible or foul.

That is the original meaning.

It is only as late as 1670 that dark begins to refer to ignorant. By 1700s it refers to negativity and by 1775 the word is used to refer to black people.  

The sequence here is
Dark/obscure/gloomy/sinister  -  Ignorant  -  Black people (and brown people)


Original English had two meanings for the word Black. 'When used as a noun it referred to the colour Black. The online Etymology Dictionary says ‘When used as an adjective ''Old English blæc "dark," from Proto-Germanic *blakaz "burned" (cognates: Old Norse blakkr "dark," Old High German blah "black," Swedish bläck "ink," Dutch blaken "to burn"), from PIE *bhleg- "to burn, gleam, shine, flash" (cognates: Greek phlegein "to burn, scorch," Latin flagrare "to blaze, glow, burn"), from root *bhel- (1) "to shine, flash, burn;" Or bleach''. This was probably the reference to and origins of 'blacksmith' 

'The same root produced Old English blac "bright, shining, glittering, pale;" the connecting notions being, perhaps, "fire" (bright) and "burned" (dark). " Used of dark-skinned people in Old English.'

In 1300 it begins to refer to colour of sin and sorrow, by 1500 the word black began referring  to 'dark purposes and malignant' by 1500 it is also used to refer to dishonour, besmirch;  It then gets a reference to blackmail (perhaps because it burned and scorched and not a reference to colour). So we can see the links and connotations are changing and evolving from black being a reference to colour to references to negative and bad things.

The pnemonic and bubonic plague of the 1300s was at that time not called 'black death'. In the 16th century, after the 1300 to 1500 evolution of black from reference purely to colour or burn/blaze/glow/livid,  to include negative meanings, the word black was retrospectively attached to those tragic deaths.

By 1600 you have blacklists, by 1800 you have blacksheep

Black eye "discoloration around the eye from injury"  in 1600, which is obviously a description of a physical condition, morphs into  ‘Figurative sense of "injury to pride, rebuff"  by 1744. By 1880s it also means "bad reputation".

The term Blackguard from a jovial mocking reference in 1500s becomes a references to criminal classes by 1700s

By 1920s 'in the black' means a corporate loss and by 1930s references to 'black markets' are established.

Even the black widow spider has brown, red, black and yellow on its shell but gets called 'black'

The sequential evolution is from the original black which was a colour and a reference to black persons, and had very positive terms to illustrate it gradually moved over a long period of time to refer to everything bad and negative.


The Online Etymology Dictionary says
‘White means …. "whiteness, white food, white of an egg," . Also in late Old English "a highly luminous color devoid of chroma. In old English the word White also referred to  "bright, radiant; clear, fair,"  In other language derivatives it meant  "white; to shine" (cognates: Sanskrit svetah "white;" Old Church Slavonic sviteti "to shine," svetu "light;" Lithuanian šviesti "to shine," svaityti "to brighten"). '

White was also used as a surname for persons with fair hair or complexion. 
It is indeed interesting that both black and white originally referred to 'shine' but obviously referring to different colours the meanings diverge as time passes by.

It is not as though the word white is not associated with negative meanings. But whenever it is associated with a negative meaning it is in comparison with another negativity where white comes out better off.

White collar crime – is associated with a softer version of behaviour, associated with genteel persons, linked with notions of education

White trash - is not when white people behaved in a trashy manner, it is when white people were in comparable positions to black servants (in America)

White Elephant - was a gift of honour though it was one which ruined you. The ‘elephant’ (i.e. the gifted object) is obviously of a high value, the maintenance of which cannot be afforded by an economically weaker person.

White wash - is cover up negativity, bad news, bad things.

White lie - is even a lie becomes a good thing; it is seen as a thing done to ‘benefit’ others.

Original meaning
Beautiful, pleasing, attractive
Obscure, gloomy, sad, wicked, absence of light
Colour Black, dark, burned, gleam, shine, flash, blaze, glow, bright, glittery,
Also used for dark skinned people
Colour White, radiant, clear, fair, shine, brighten
One with fair hair or complexion
Original + light skinned people

Both of above +

Sorrow, sin


Malignant purpose
Dishonour, besmirch, blackmail
Blackguard (jovial reference)


Blacklists, Blackeye (as in physical description)


Black people
Blackeye (as in Injury to pride)
Blackguard (criminal class)

All of above +
‘Comparatively good’

Blackeye (as in bad reputation)
White trash
White elephant

In the black (as in financial loss)
Black market
White wash
White lie
White collar crime


Are you seeing how it works? Humans are pattern matchers. Human brain is not primarily for analysis though very capable of it. The default position is pattern matching. Here is a more recent example of pattern matching related distortion. The nazis used the swastika and now though the swastika is actually a powerful holy positive symbol used (potentially) by a billion people in other parts of the world, in the white western European-American world it is a negative symbol. We do not look at the meaning, we look at the usage and assign meaning. Our pattern matching in the western world, now fears the swastika as a nazi thing not how it actually is which is a Vedic thing.

Similarly our pattern matching is now helpless when it comes to racism, it associates black and dark with everything negative. It associates white with everything positive. We have becomes inadvertent slaves of aspects of our possibly distorted evolution of the English language. It served the purposes of white Europe in previous times.

In 1500s many European countries abolished slavery in their own countries as they were actively taking slaves from Africa. The language associations described above show a change in usage mostly in the 1500s and then it surges forward. This links clearly with the origins of the history of European involvement in the slavery of black people around that time and its growth. There seems to have been a desperate psychological need to create these new negative links on the color-people-trait theme so as to distance justify and garner support for the white Europeans who were trading black people as slaves. The links with dark colour and negativity has left a legacy which is now seemingly impossible to resolve.

Slavery itself was much older but that was not linked to colour. It was linked to debt, war, crime, punishment. We still see the effects of those kinds of linkages in human trafficking, poverty traps etc but those are linked to numericals, philosophy, economics; and not linguistic or visual based. Therefore when we think of say human trafficking we are able to look at it in an analytical mode when process, numbers becomes solutions. When we talk about racism we become pattern matches and emotion becomes a defense. 


It can be expected that anyone who uses this rationale or logic for a change of language is going to face at the least a push back and at worse a back lash. The importance of context when interpreting words or phrases is paramount. Context however is immediate to the circumstance; even historic context is shadowed by our immediate context. Our current circumstance and context is preloaded with centuries of evolution and thus the links are woven into the genetics of the evolution of language. If context is indeed everything, then the language developed for the context of the 16th 17th and 18th centuries becomes incorrect for usage in the 21st century. By using such language in the 21st century we become automatic accomplices to perpetuation of archaic practices.
It is not a simplistic matter of political correctness, it is not moral policing, it is not thought control. It is a matter of looking clearly at the evidence and its impact. Language links up with imagination and imagery then becomes etched in our mind to be called up on every occasion we pattern match (which is pretty much all the time) – these are the origin of unconscious and subconscious bias. This is the reason why often even black people taking the Implicit Association Test on race seem to be biased towards white people.

Colour needs to be disentangled from its links to bias. This will neither be easy nor quick. There are possibly many ways of doing this. Language architects can be engaged to weed out negative connotations. This need not always be people, software can enable this effort. The positive connotations of the words currently used negatively could be increased. The latter would be a better approach but understandably both approaches would be needed.

At a personal level, every reader of this article is urged to stop using at least these four words, FAIR, DARK, BLACK and WHITE for anything other that in its original meanings. Words such as black should not be used for accountancy (‘in the black’) or the various negative connotations. Black should be used only to refer to colour. Similarly with other words. Anything other than the original meanings should be subject to extraordinarily vigorous challenge and such usage be eliminated. The future generations may have a ray of hope for an impartial world (not a fairer world) if language distortions are ironed out. 

It can be done. It is not too late.


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Post Script
The links between dark/black and negative is mainly a Europe influenced phenomenon. In the parts or the world now known as India an incarnation of God was called Krishna which literally means the 'dark/black one' - Krishna is even now the God for a billion people with all its positive connotations. However, due to the power of English across the world and the history of Britain in its influence across the world even in India the same links between colour and positive or negative traits apply though not directly to Krishna (yet). Of course, that part of the world has its own linguistic history based biases persisting till today.

References and search term links

NB: While this blog site is primarily about healthcare, I have an interest in issues such as bias, race and its impact on healthcare. I hope a better understanding these issues in the broader context, helps us deal with healthcare in a better manner.