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Updated December 3, 2022
The battle over healthcare in the U.S. today
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 significantly improved by ending this battle.
What You Will Learn
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.
I have watched the term “healthcare” (all versions of that phrase) get grammatically abused and misused by all. Is it “health care”? Or “health-care”? Or “healthcare”? The battle over how to properly use these terms has dragged on in the U.S. for way too long.
The offender’s list includes the most significant book publishing companies, dictionaries, newspaper and magazine publishers, medical institutions, and government agencies in the U.S.
Who Is to Blame for the Confusion?
These very same publishers and institutions are to blame for the prolonged confusion. Some mandate using “healthcare” as one word for all grammatical situations.
And others still insist on using “healthcare” and “health care” depending on the topic discussed or the context in which it is used. Making matters much worse, some will switch around the terms all within the same publication.
How We Handle It
Our company has deliberately chosen “healthcare” for our writing guide policy. New compound terms can seem awkward to use for a while. But eventually, we all accept and conform to the change. But we certainly understand both sides of the argument.
Most US citizens have already accepted the change to using “healthcare” as one word for all applications. Now it’s time for the last few defiant holdouts to take this opportunity and use “healthcare” as one word, not two. Our language, and any discussions about health, will be significantly improved by ending this battle.
Why We Use “Healthcare”
Why does my 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 fine – and way too subtle to keep up. Before long, writers and editors started dropping that confusing extra space and the hyphen, transforming a purely semantic nuance into no nuance.
The Reader’s Needs Come First
At my company, our core belief is that we are obligated to our readers and students to make everything we publish and teach as easy to read and understand as possible. So, if this means using one word versus two, using an unpopular or grammatically incorrect hyphen in a word, 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 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 everything 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 our 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 refinement is not just the inevitable evolution of our language. Our language will never stop changing and improving, especially here in the U.S., and that’s a good thing. In this case, it is a sensible and long-overdue change to make.
“Health care”, “Health-Care”, and Healthcare” Defined
We will frequently see all three phrases but are unsure whether they are the same. Most people, including healthcare professionals, now use each to mean the same thing. But the usage of these terms was fundamentally different at first.
As one word, “healthcare” is the system in which the professionals work and where patients receive care.
But, in two words, “health care” is a service trained professionals offer patients.
Health-care with a hyphen is 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 other 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 commingled. Many in the U.S. now accept “healthcare” as the generic way of referring to any aspect of medical care. Whether it is a discussion of the diagnosis or treatment of diseases, how the treatment is delivered, or how they are paid for, the term is now “healthcare” as one word.
You can readily see why these definitions can get confusing and have commingled. Many in the U.S. now accept “healthcare” as the generic way of referring to any aspect of medical care. Whether it is a discussion of the diagnosis or treatment of diseases or how the therapy is delivered or paid for, the term is now “healthcare” as 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 you’re writing for wants you to use the Oxford English Dictionary, the Associated Press Stylebook, or the A.M.A. 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 online searches and get 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 more common. Some U.S. and Canadian publications resist the change, preferring “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 help speed up the process and start using “healthcare” as one term for all applications.
Questions to Think About
1. Can you tell me what side of this debate you have chosen? And why?
2. Do you believe that making the term “healthcare” one word for all uses will improve or hurt our language?
It has bothered me for a long time that each of my go-to sources for grammar rules and usage was confusing to understand 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, to figure out how to deal with it within my writing, and to explain and justify my decision to myself – and you, the reader. Please let me know what you think about this topic and my essay – good, bad, or otherwise.
My Favorite Sources on This Debate
It is interesting to peek in at some of the behind-the-scenes discussion, bickering, and snobbery that occurs as our language evolves before our eyes. 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. If you find another excellent article that should be on this list, let me know.
• Galli, Victor. The Final Word: Healthcare Vs. Health Care. 30 Jun. 2014. Web. 12 Sep. 2016.
• 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)
• Issel, L. Michele. It’s Health Care, Not Healthcare. Health Care Management Review. Oct.-Dec. 2014. Web. 12 Sep. 2016.
• Riddle, Clive. Healthcare (Health Care) In a Word (Or Two). 5 Sep. 2014. Web. 9 Sep. 2016.
• Safire, William. On Language: Get Off My Laptop. New York Times Magazine. New York Times, 14 Nov. 1993. Web. 9 Sep. 2016.
• Healthcare Vs. Health Care. c. 18 Nov. 2012. Web. 9 Sep. 2016.
• How Healthy Is “Healthcare”? 21 Nov. 2014. Web. 12 Sep. 2016