9

The attributive use of the adjective "so-called" is defined as follows by the Oxford English Dictionary.

In attributive use (hyphened): Called or designated by this name or term, but not properly entitled to it or correctly described by it. Also loosely or catachr. as a term of abuse. More recently, and now quite commonly (esp. in technical contexts), used merely to call attention to the description, without implication of incorrectness.

Is there any unambiguously neutral equivalent to the attributive use of the adjective "so-called"?

Example of use:

The objective of the de-identification process is to remove all so-called Protected Health Information (PHI).

I don't want the reader to think that I may imply that Protected Health Information isn't a good term. I know I could rephrase it such as:

The objective of the de-identification process is to remove all terms known as Protected Health Information (PHI).

but I am looking for another adjective that can be used attributively.

  • 1
    @Cardinal Thanks, I think using "well-known" might imply that there exist lesser known PHI. According to OED, so-called typically implies the term isn't perfect: it has changed recently but it might create some ambiguity around the writer's intent. – Franck Dernoncourt Sep 12 '16 at 14:06
  • 2
    Why don't you just delete so-called and use remove all Protected Health Information (PHI)? – Alan Carmack Sep 12 '16 at 14:17
  • @AlanCarmack I want to make it clear that the term is the appropriate and recognized term in the field (i.e., note some term I have made up). – Franck Dernoncourt Sep 12 '16 at 14:29
16

Here are a few more substitute terms:

The objective of the de-identification process is to remove anything considered Protected Health Information (PHI).

The objective of the de-identification process is to remove anything which meets the definition of Protected Health Information (PHI).

The objective of the de-identification process is to remove anything deemed Protected Health Information (PHI).

These convey the idea that someone calls this stuff "protected health information" without suggesting that they are wrong to do so.

  • Or deemed, which suggests some method to the classification. – Monty Harder Sep 12 '16 at 21:02
  • @MontyHarder Good suggestion. I have added it. – David42 Sep 13 '16 at 1:45
9

The easiest way to say it is:

The objective of the de-identification process is to remove any Protected Health Information (PHI).

or

The objective of the de-identification process is to remove all Protected Health Information (PHI) fields.

In both cases, the use of capitalization indicates that "PHI" is jargon, or some kind of bureaucratic pseudo-language. Not perfect, but this sort of thing is not really English.

6

SUPPLEMENTARY to Dave Emerson's Answer:
I agree with Dave Emerson that the capitalization adequately identifies "Protected Health Information" as a 'term of art' distinct from generic 'protected health information': that is, it bears a specific technical or regulatory meaning in this context.

If the text in which this appears is addressed to an audience who will be familiar with the term, you need say no more; and if that's not the case, you're going to be obliged to define the term anyway.

Consequently, I can only assume that your concern is to introduce the term as 'markedly' as possible. I suggest something like this:

The objective of the de-identification process is to remove what [AGENCY] calls 'Protected Health Information' (PHI).

For [AGENCY] substitute the name of the defining authority.

  • 4
    The pronoun "what" seems a little iffy there. How about either "...remove data classified as Protected Health Information by SOR123.45.6" or "...remove Protected Health Information (as defined by SOR123.45.6)"? – supercat Sep 12 '16 at 15:43
  • @supercat Those are both fine; but I see no need to alter what I call a "free relative construction". :) – StoneyB Sep 12 '16 at 17:27
3

The most minimal way to do this that actually does take the place of "so-called" rather than simply omitting that concept, and the method requiring the least additional explanation, is probably:

The objective of the de-identification process is to remove all "Protected Health Information" (PHI).

Use of quotation marks in this way when introducing a new term is perfectly acceptable and clearly indicates that this is the specific label (word) for the concept under discussion.

The meaning could be made more explicit by adding an attribution by way of further explanation:

The objective of the de-identification process is to remove all "Protected Health Information" (PHI), as defined by [someone].

2

I assume that your use of the term Protected Health Information refers to Protected Health Information as defined by the United States' Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). In order to make it clear that you intend that specific meaning of Protected Health Information, at some point in your document (not necessarily during the explanation of the de-identification process, but not later than that), you should have made some reference to the definition of Protected Health Information by HIPAA, even if it is an indirect reference such as "Protected Health Information as defined under U.S. law."

If you did not intend that exact meaning of Protected Health Information then it is doubly important that upon first using that term you should give a definition or a reference to a document that gives a definition of the term.

Once you have made it clear what you mean by Protected Health Information, you can continue to use the term in that exact format throughout your document without any further qualification.

As for writing "Protected Health Information (PHI)", I can think of three good reasons to follow a term with an acronym for the same term in parentheses. One is if you intend to use the acronym without spelling it out in full later in the same document. Another reason is if the acronym will be much more familiar to readers than the spelled-out term, so that inclusion of the acronym aids understanding. A third reason (not applicable here) would be if the acronym is widely used but is not clearly recognizable as an acronym of the term as you used it (for example, the acronym ISO, which does not match the initial letters and word order of any of the three official names of that organization).

  • Thanks, I indeed mention HIPAA in the next sentence (which I cut to make the example shorter) :-) – Franck Dernoncourt Sep 12 '16 at 17:02

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