It is complicated! – misunderstanding the complexities of ‘complex’

Joachim P. Sturmberg, Carmel M. Martin, David A. Katerndahl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Terminology matters - as Lakoff emphasised, words and phrases evoke powerful images and frames of understanding. It is for that reason that we need to discern and use appropriately the term complex/complexity in the health science/professional/policy domain. Complex is the fashionable term used when in reality one means ‘complicated’, ‘difficult to understand’ or ‘multiple simultaneous actions’. However, this is not what complex means. The Latin term means ‘entwined/interwoven’ - a structural characteristic describing systems. Complexity arises from the interactions between structurally connected entities - a functional characteristic of a system. The basis of scientific rigor is a clear understanding of a discipline's epistemology. Complexity refers to the emergence of outcomes from the interactions of a system's constituent components (and thus has nothing in common with the colloquial meaning of complicatedness).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)426-429
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of evaluation in clinical practice
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017


  • multimorbidity
  • patient-centred care
  • person-centred medicine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


Dive into the research topics of 'It is complicated! – misunderstanding the complexities of ‘complex’'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this