Healthcare Terms

Disability Royal Commission hearings sometimes use terms that most Australians aren’t very familiar with. We’re keeping a list of these and trying to explain them in plain language. Please feel free to contact us if you have suggestions for words that should be included.

Click here for general DRC terms.

Terms Used In Healthcare Hearings

Morbidity and mortality: These are medical terms used to talk about health problems. Morbidity means illness and mortality means death. For example, medical research about a particular disease can talk about a morbidity rate (how often people get sick) and a mortality rate (how often people die). Co-morbidity means two or more conditions that someone has at the same time. People who are using the medical model of disability might also use these words to talk about disability. PWDA, and other disability rights organisations, use the social model of disability.

Diagnostic Overshadowing: Sometimes a doctor or health professional thinks all of a person’s symptoms or problems are because of their disability, even when the same symptom would be a sign of a health issue in a person without disability. This means people with disability who do have unrelated health problems can end up not getting treatment for those problems, or waiting longer than other people for treatment.

Prescribing practices: These are the ways in which doctors or health professionals handle prescriptions. Over-prescribing, or prescribing too much of a medication, is a bad prescribing practice. Another one is under-prescribing, or not prescribing enough of a medication. 

Treatment Order: A legal document allowing forced treatment, usually of a person with psychosocial, intellectual or cognitive disability. A Treatment Order means someone can give a person medication or other medical treatment which that person doesn’t want. Legally, this is only supposed to happen if a doctor thinks the person might hurt themself or someone else without it, but it can be very hard to prove that a treatment order has been used illegally.

Depending on where you live, there might be different legal authorities that can grant a treatment order, and different kinds of doctors and mental health workers who can ask for one. SANE Australia has more information and a list of Plain English guides to the rules in different states.

For a person with intellectual disability living in an institution or similar residential setting, there can be a version called a Supervised Treatment Order (STO). Find out more in this report on the human rights of people detained under these laws.

You can also read more about forced treatment in the Forced Treatment & Restrictive Practices Factsheet on the DPOA website.