Can this word be used to mean observing the patient's condition in a hospital in order to make a diagnosis?


It is a perfectly legitimate word to use. It is extremely common to say that the patient is to be kept under surveillance. The commonest use is in the context of patients with precancerous conditions who are routinely kept under surveillance for signs of malignant change.

  • Do you have a reference for this? I would normally expect surveillance to be used if the patient is a risk to himself or others – suicide watch or legal custody. I could accept that it's a common medical jargon but would want to see a source backing that up. – Bradd Szonye Nov 19 '13 at 23:05
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    According to my medical connections (who I just asked), surveillance is commonly used in hospitals for patients with acute problems, and especially in areas involving serious mental health concerns. It usually implies a higher level or ongoing observation. I realise this is anecdotal - will try to find a more formal reference. – long Nov 19 '13 at 23:12
  • surveillance - (merriam-webster.com/medlineplus/surveillance) - close and continuous observation or testing. It may also refer to long term screening for adverse conditions – long Nov 19 '13 at 23:17
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    surveillance - from MediLexicon "a type of observational study that involves continuous monitoring of disease occurrence within a population." – long Nov 19 '13 at 23:24
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    For once, I think I agree with just about every answer / comment here! One has to be careful to use a register that won't needlessly create a wrong impression. I can imagine a doctor telling a worried spouse that their spouse's condition is being carefully monitored, then instructing the nurse on the types of surveillance to be carried out. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 19 '13 at 23:37

'Observation' is my preferred term. We normally talk of a patient being kept in hospital 'under observation'.

'Surveillance' is not unheard of, but it has a sinister ring about it, and is used in connection with the police and security services, as well as 'CCTV surveillance'! For that reason I would avoid its use in a medical context.

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    Yes; English just doesn't behave like we'd want it to. There's nothing sinister connoted by the word 'survey', but 'surveillance' is loaded. Compare 'schematics' and 'scheming'. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 19 '13 at 22:41
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    -1 for a wrong answer sorry – user49727 Nov 19 '13 at 22:55
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    Surveillance is certainly used among those in the medical community; a simple web search for patient kept under surveillance turns up thousands of examples in research papers. But I agree that lay persons would not ordinarily use it because it has connotations of criminal investigation out of context. We also speak of patients being monitored. – choster Nov 19 '13 at 23:13

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