Dr Milena Murray on the Importance of Using People-First Language With Patients Living With HIV

October 30, 2020

The patients must always come first, emphasized Milena Murray, PharmD, MSc, BCIDP, AAHIVP, associate professor at Midwestern University College of Pharmacy, who practices at the Northwestern Medicine Infectious Disease Center in Chicago.

The patients must always come first, so we must not stigmatize them, particularly when using terms like clean or infected, or even the phrase unprotected sex, emphasized Milena Murray, PharmD, MSc, BCIDP, AAHIVP, associate professor at Midwestern University College of Pharmacy, who practices at the Northwestern Medicine Infectious Disease Center in Chicago.

Transcript

How can we avoid stigmatizing patients living with HIV through the language we use?

Absolutely, and this is something I’m very passionate about. So the correct terminology would be “people living with HIV” rather than attaching the word infected. So we don’t want to say “HIV infected.” We only want to refer to “HIV positive” if we’re talking about a lab test, maybe in a research paper. Transmission is really a preferred term, “living with HIV,” so that we’re talking about the patient first. So it’s people-first language. We’re talking about the patient, and they just happen to be living with HIV. They might also happen to have diabetes or hypertension. So we’re not putting that stigmatizing piece on the actual HIV itself; it’s a disease just like any other, and we don’t want to stigmatize anybody.

Part of me wishes I could have lived through the entire ‘80s, ‘90s, because the historical perspective is so fascinating to me. And I am glad that I am practicing in the time that I’m practicing now, because we have so much more knowledge and medications. But I think it’s just really important to always see that patient first, and I try to teach my students that. I try to tweet about it. Very much so, when I see an article even published in a major journal that uses, “in HIV-infected patients,” I'm like, “Why did a reviewer not catch that?” And even with drug use, so not saying “drug abuse” or “substance abuse”; it's “use.” So not using terms like clean, because that implies that somebody was dirty.

There’s just a lot of, even with “unprotected sex.” Say “condomless sex,” because then it says, if you’re protected, then you’re safer or it sounds better.

So there’s just a lot of language that we can look at and use. And I often do just a control-find in my own writing to make sure I don’t use the word infected.