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Medical Terminology

Why do medical people use medical terminology instead of plain English when speaking?


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July 17, 2013 7:46AM

As with all technology, there must be a clear and precise way for nurses and doctors to communicate. It is a universal term of reference and highly useful for pinpointing or describing a location or procedure.

It really is so that there is NO mistake when doctors are conveying information about a patient to each other. For example, to a lay person, "fever" may mean that the person feels hot, or that the temperature is above 100. But no one knows, really--it can cause a lot of confusion. It's so indistinct.

WIth medical terms, things are very clear, so that even a surgeon in France can read a scientific journal article and know exactly what the author means. That way, also, medicine can be global and that the medical societies can share ideas and innovations.

A bit more:

Since every thing in a patient's medical records must be documented, from s/s (signs and symptoms), to the patient's medical hx (history), to the final dx (diagnosis) and tx (treatment), it saves the doctors and all other medical personnel a considerable amount of time to use a universally accepted form of medical terminology. And, even more importantly, it's safer when all medical professionals, from doctors and nurses, lab techs to radiology techs, etc. use the same universal medical terminology so they don't have to try to guess what was ordered or charted on the patient's medical records.

It's also used in writing prescriptions; pharmacists and pharmacy techs use the same terminology when filling prescriptions. It's more accurate (and safer!) when ALL medical professionals use the same terminology. Some examples on prescriptions:

q.d. = every day

b.i.d. = twice a day

t.i.d. = three times a day

q.i.d. = four times a day

hs = at bedtime

po = to be taken by mouth

ASA = aspirin


Almost every medical specific field uses specific terminology, mostly based on Latin and Greek. The main reason is to avoid confusion and to be specific in the least amount of words or explanation. Unfortunately, plain English is not always so plain or term specific and compared to Latin, there is a tendency to have many terms for one description when Take the word ""RIGHT"". It could mean opposite of left, OR it could mean correct.


A lot of it has to do with the fact that all medical books, until only very recently, were written in Latin. And, before that, they were all written in Greek. Medical terminology also developed its own rules for combining word parts, including the use of aponyms, acronyms, and descriptive terms using modern language.

There is no universal medical terminology and every country and language has its own version, though they are all still based in Latin and Greek, for Western medicine. This is sometimes a problem when medical people from different parts of the world communicate, that is why there is a World Medical Symposium every ten years when medical people from around the world get together and work on 'universal' terminology. At the rate that medical terminology is growing, there is very little chance that this effort will ever catch up with it all. Like I tell my students on day one of class, the most important thing about any language is to get the message across, and sometimes, even doctors and nurses have to resort to plain language to describe something that is important if they forgot the medical term or it does not yet exist for what they need to communicate.