Most of us in this industry have found ourselves searching online how to spell healthcare. Is it healthcare or health care? We often see the term written both ways. Of course the answer depends on who (or what) you ask, even Google.
The AP Stylebook Lays down the Law
Those of us who aren’t professional writers may be unfamiliar with the AP Stylebook, a guide created by journalists with the Associated Press to standardize mass communications. In the health care versus healthcare debate, the AP Stylebook declares that health care is two words in all references. There’s no grammatical or contextual reason the AP deems it two words. It’s simply a stylistic decision. Therefore, news organizations across the U.S. and the world use the two-word form without question.
Other Sources Don’t Add Clarity
Unfortunately, the endless complexities of the English language only muddy the waters. What definitive source do you consult when you’re trying to make sense of language? A dictionary, of course. It’s telling that health care is one of Merriam-Webster dictionary’s top 20% most popular words. Try typing healthcare into Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary. You’ll discover the dictionary refuses to recognize the single-word version. Instead you’ll get this result:
health care (noun): efforts to maintain or restore physical, mental, or emotional well-being especially by trained and licensed professionals
While Merriam-Webster doesn’t include a definition of healthcare (one word), some industry experts suggest we should use both spellings to convey different meanings. For example, health care is a noun that encompasses the act of improving a patient’s health. Healthcare is a noun or adjective that refers to the industry or specific facility or system.
In reality, healthcare is just one of our language’s continually evolving words, with the beginnings of a one-word spelling rooted in 1976 when Modern Hospital, a leading industry magazine, changed its name to Modern Healthcare. In the 1990’s, we began seeing federal health advocacy and legislation with the same spelling.
Much has changed over the past 20 years, perhaps none more substantially than our ability to demand lighting fast answers from good-ole Google. And Google shows a significant trend on this subject. Healthcare has slowly been pulling ahead of health care in terms of search volume on Google Trends.
So, do you trust the dictionary, AP, or go with what’s trending in Google? There’s no crystal clear answer. The best advice pick one spelling and use it consistently throughout your internal and external communications. Take responsibility for the words you use as an organization. As the healthcare industry continues to grow and become an even bigger factor in our everyday lives, be aware of and sensitive to how things – even words – change in meaning.