The term “healthcare” will eventually become widely accepted as one word, not two, whether die-hard grammarians, linguists, and editors like it or not. Our language, and any discussions about health, will be greatly improved by ending this battle.
The Battle Over Healthcare In America Today
What You Will Learn In This Post
1. You will learn who is to blame for this problem.
2. You will learn what side we have chosen to align with.
3. You will learn what you should do.
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Is it “health care”? Or “health-care”? Or “healthcare”? The battle over how to properly use these terms has trudged on in America for many years. I have been involved in educating healthcare professionals and students here in New York City and on Long Island for over 31 years.
For that entire time, I have watched the term “healthcare” (all versions of that phrase) get grammatically abused and misused by all – even by the largest book publishing companies, dictionaries, newspaper and magazine publishers, medical institutions, and government agencies in America.>
Who Is To Blame For The Confusion?
These very same publishers and institutions are to blame for the prolonged confusion. Some of them mandate the using of “healthcare” as one word for all grammatical situations. And some of them still insist on using both “healthcare” and “health care”, depending on the specific topic being discussed, or the context in which it’s being used. To make matters much worse, some publications will even switch around the term and the way that it’s used – all within the same publication.
How We Handle It
Here at our company we have consciously chosen to use “healthcare” as one word for our writing guide policy. But we certainly understand both sides of the argument. New compound terms can seem awkward to use for a while. But eventually, we all accept and conform to the change.
Most of us in America have already accepted the change to using “healthcare” as one word for all of its uses. Now it is time for the last few defiant holdouts to accept this change and start using “healthcare” as one word, not two. Our language, and any discussions about health, will be greatly improved by ending this battle.
Why We Use “Healthcare”
Why does my medical training and publishing company embrace “healthcare” as one word? Well, “health care”, “health-care”, and “healthcare” may have grammatically been used in different ways when these terms first came about. But now, in all rational practicality, it should be one word.
The distinction between them was always a fine one – and way too subtle, obviously, to keep up. Before long, writers and editors alike started dropping that confusing extra space, and the hyphen, and transforming what had become a purely semantic nuance into no nuance at all.
The Reader’s Needs Come First
At my company, our core belief is that we have an obligation to our readers and students to make everything that we publish and teach to be as easy to read and understand as possible. So if this means using one word versus two, or using an unpopular or grammatically incorrect hyphen in a word, or splitting an infinitive, or using extra commas, then we’ll do it.
Our first and foremost duty is to our readers and students, not the grammar editors or linguists. Writing in a such a way as to make the reading experience clearer and more productive has nothing to do with lazy writing or poor spelling skills. It has to do with clarity, and common courtesy for the reader.
Evolution And Refinement Of Our Language
But can we blame our language for simplifying and evolving? It’s equally possible that American society, in its infinite semantic wisdom, has finally decided not to split hairs – or word phrases – where it’s pointless and confusing to do so. This isn’t just the inescapable evolution of our language. In this case, it actually is a sensible, and long overdue, change to make. Language will never stop changing and improving, especially in America. And that’s a good thing.
“Health care”, “Health-Care”, and Healthcare” Defined
We will frequently see all three phrases, but are unsure whether they are the same thing or not. Most people, including healthcare professionals, now use each one to mean the same thing. But the usage of these terms was fundamentally different at first. At its most elemental definition, “health care” was a service offered by trained professionals to patients.
But, as one word, “healthcare” meant the system in which the professionals work and where patients receive care. Health-care with a hyphen would be considered the same as healthcare, with no hyphen.
“The nurses and physicians at my local hospital provide health care to the public in the surrounding towns. That same hospital is part of a larger healthcare system of several hospitals in the county”.
If you were to look up “health care” or “healthcare” in several different dictionaries, or in several different writing style guides, you wouldn’t see much consistency between them.
Many Have Already Accepted The Change
You can readily see why these definitions can get confusing and have become commingled. But now, many of us, in America and in the healthcare profession, accept that the term “healthcare” is now a generic way of referring to any aspect of medical care – no matter what the topic being discussed. Whether it’s a discussion of the diagnosis or treatment of diseases, or how that diagnosis or treatment is delivered, or how they are paid for, is now “healthcare” – one word.
What Should You Do?
Until this battle is over, you must do whatever your editor or publisher tells you to do. And if the organization that you’re writing for wants you to use the Oxford English Dictionary, or the Associated Press Stylebook, or the AMA Style Manual, then do as they tell you. But try your best to add tags and keywords to your writing with all three terms: “health care”, “health-care”, and “healthcare”. A Google search on each term will give different results – and you certainly don’t want your writing to be left out of the searches or overlooked and ignored.
The term “healthcare” will eventually become widely accepted as one word, whether die-hard grammarians, linguists, and editors like it or not. Some writers claim that this acceptance has already occurred in British English, where “healthcare” as one word is used more frequently. Some American and Canadian publications still resist the change, still preferring both “health care” and “healthcare.”
And supposedly Australian English falls somewhere in-between. In any event, it’s inevitable that “healthcare” will eventually be accepted as one word. Enough time has already passed. Let’s all help speed up the process and start using “healthcare” as one term for all uses.
I hope that what I’ve written here adds to the discussion in a positive and constructive way. It has bothered me for a long time that each of my go-to sources for grammar rules and usage were confusing to understand on this topic, and didn’t offer much practical guidance. And to make matters worse, some of these sources wouldn’t even discuss the issue – and still won’t discuss it.
So, I wrote this to help me better understand the problem, and to figure out how to deal with it within my own writing, and to explain and justify my decision to myself – and to you the reader. Please let me know what you think about this topic and my essay – good, bad, or otherwise.
Questions For Us To Think About And Discuss
1. Can you tell me what side of this debate have you chosen? And why?
2. Do you believe that making term “healthcare” one word for all uses will improve or hurt our language?
Let me know in the comments section below.
My Favorite Sources On This Debate
If you read all of the sources listed below, you will get a much better sense of all sides of the argument from several different perspectives. And then it actually starts to become interesting (no, really, I meant it) as you listen in on some of the behind-the-scenes discussion, bickering, and snobbery, that occurs as our language evolves right before our very eyes.
• Hanes, Elizabeth. Health Care Or Healthcare: Which Is It? 25 Nov. 2013. Web. 9 Sep. 2016. (http://elizabethhanes.com/writing/health-care-or-healthcare-which-is-it)
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