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The Language of Healthcare -If You Recognize the Parts, You'll Understand the Whole.




Studies show that a clear understanding of information during the diagnostic and treatment process is considered to be an important factor for improved health care outcomes. Patient involvement is based on communication and in healthcare part of that communication is based on understanding the vocabulary of healthcare. So what can you do to better understand the language spoken by healthcare professionals to be confident and comfortable understanding what you doctor says? Well first of all, you know more than you think. Medical terminology doesn't have to feel like a totally new language. Many English language word parts have the same meaning in medical terminology as they do in the English language. For example the prefix intra- meaning within as in the word intramural sports (activities that take place within the walls of an institution; school or area). The same prefix can be found in many the medical terms including "intracranial" (pertaining to within the cranium) and intravenous ( pertaining to within vein). The suffix endings -al and -ous mean pertaining to.


Another example of a word part that is commonly used in the English language that has the same meaning in medical terminology is the word root therm/ meaning heat. As in the English term thermos, a bottle, flask or similar vessel designed to maintain the temperature of its contents. The italicized word part is called the word root/and it gives the term its essential meaning. The word root therm/ comes from the ancient Greek word θερμός thermós, meaning warm. Many medical and health related terms (about 75%) are related to the Greek and Latin languages. The main reason for this is that the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates together with his followers were the first to describe diseases based on observation. The recording of information by Greek physicians developed a standardized vocabulary which the Romans expanded on as Greek medicine migrated to Italy. Latin became the language of science and up to the beginning of the 18th century all medical texts were written in Latin. Knowing that therm/ means heat allows you to decode any medical term with that word root as having to do with temperature/heat. Decode the medical term thermesthesia. Therm/ is the word root meaning heat and -esthesia is a suffix ending meaning feeling or sensation. When you dissect a medical term you get the meaning of the word by reading it from back to front. So the medical term thermesthesia means feeling or sensation of heat or sensitiveness to heat.


Most medical terms are organized by category.


1. Medical terms based on word roots, prefixes and suffixes. This is the easiest way to learn basic medical terminology because each word part has its own meaning. Learn those that are specific to your body system or medical condition. Once you know the meaning of the word part it can be applied to any medical term no matter how simple or complex. If you recognize the parts, you'll understand the whole.

When you know common root words and related suffixes and prefixes you are building a set of tools that can be used to decode any medical words you encounter. You can look on the internet for a variety of word parts (word roots, prefixes and suffixes). Here is an example of the suffix ending -itis. It can combined with any number of word roots and will always have the same meaning, inflammation.

  • cardi/o meaning heart - carditis = inflammation of the heart

  • neur/o meaning nerve - neuritis = inflammation of the nerve

  • gastr/o meaning stomach - gastritis = inflammation of the stomach

  • ot/o meaning ear - otitis = inflammation of the ear

You can look on the internet for a variety of word parts (word roots, prefixes and suffixes). Learn those that are specific to your body system or medical condition. You can easily learn these because once you know the meaning of the word part it can be applied to any medical term no matter how simple or complex. If you recognize the parts, you'll understand the whole. When you know common root words and related suffixes and prefixes you are building a set of tools that can be used to decode any medical words you encounter.


2. Abbreviations, acronyms and eponyms. This is more difficult because as in any language there are a vast number of abbreviations, acronyms and eponyms in medical terminology which can have multiple meanings depending on context of usage. Lists of this category of medical terms are extensive and even health care providers may have some they are unfamiliar with if not in their specialty. So once again you can look them up on the internet for those that are specific to your body system or medical condition.


3. Anatomical medical terms relating to body parts, body functions, directional terms and terms related to biology and disease. These terms are the most difficult for a person without professional or specialized knowledge in healthcare to understand. These terms and any others that you are not familiar with will need further explanation from your health care provider.



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