Why are Medical Terms Complicated? An Expert's Perspective

Medical terminology is exclusive and complicated, but it serves a purpose. It is more efficient and accurate to say that a patient has epigastric pain than to say they have pain in the region of the central part of the belly, above the navel, but below the sternum. However, this precision argument is not always valid; the word “patella” is as precise and effective as its medical term. The development of medicine has promoted changes in medical procedures and documentation, such as more accurate and valuable informed consent.

This has also brought new terminology, descriptions, and a broader medical language, which has complicated the understanding of information by both professionals and patients. Clear understanding of information during diagnosis and treatment is an important factor of success. Research shows that misunderstanding or misinterpreting medical information can lead to increased anxiety, depression, indifference, and decreased patient participation. On the other hand, correct knowledge of information leads to an improvement of doctor-patient relationships and is considered a stimulus for reducing morbidity and mortality, as well as misuse of medical care.

The causes of this problem are varied; some authors insist on the existence of a medical sublanguage due to the abundance of terminology, synonymous words, and constructions that can completely replace normal language in some situations. Despite this development, cultural, geographical, and historical influence continues to generate confusion in terminology. The variety of terms describing the same structure or process, as well as eponyms that differ from country to country, often cause confusion for patients who are not generally conceived about what information can be. To solve this problem, several classification systems and tools have been developed in an attempt to equate and classify terminology.

Most medical terms adhere to a fixed structure of prefix, root, and suffix. This language helps medical staff communicate more efficiently and makes documentation easier. It also saves staff time by ensuring they don't have to explain a complex medical condition in plain English and can focus on treating patients. The Greeks are considered to be the founders of rational medicine and the medical terms are mainly derived from Greek and Latin.

To further complicate matters, almost all medical terms seem to be different from commonly used terms; for example, abdomen instead of belly or belly, NPO instead of not eating or drinking. EMRs (electronic medical records) are the technology behind patient portals that allow you to access your medical records online. Mistakes and misunderstandings can be life-threatening; this is why it is important for healthcare workers to understand medical terminology. At first glance, medical terms may seem intimidating but once you understand the basic structure of words and definitions of some common word elements you can easily analyze the meaning of thousands of medical terms. Using complicated medical jargon can be confusing, anxiety-provoking, and potentially dangerous for patients according to a recent study published in The Lancet.

English is used in most influential medical journals and has become the preferred language at international conferences. Whenever I read a text in English, Dutch, German or French (although French also have their own terminology), I have little trouble understanding most medical terms because they are all literally the same term. Whether you're a trainee GP, a nursing student, a social work worker or a doctor's receptionist if you work in an environment where a basic understanding of medical terms is required it's important that you understand them. It's also likely to be important in your daily tasks when measuring medication dosages for nursing home residents or when a receptionist responds to ranking information from higher-ranking medical staff. By the end of the course you will have been taught different ways to learn and remember medical terms and to work out the definition of those with which you are not familiar.

Theodore Eflin
Theodore Eflin

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