The Secret Language of Healthcare Practitioners

Medical1It’s true—doctors, nurses, dentists, and many other healthcare practitioners communicate with each other using a secret language. Any human being whose profession is not in healthcare will likely be exposed to bits and pieces of this secret language at some point in their lives during checkups or emergency room visits, however, healthcare practitioners try not to use this language excessively around their patients for fear of confusing them. In fact, most will not learn how to properly use this language unless they take a class or are exposed to it in their own professions. This secret language is known as Medical Terminology.

What is Medical Terminology?

According to the American Institute of Medical Sciences & Education, medical terminology is the “standardized means of communication within the healthcare industry.” Furthermore, medical terminology creates a system of nomenclature which can be used to refer to a variety of things, from specific parts to general regions of the human body, medical instruments, and medical procedures. The standardization of the communication method is key to daily communication between healthcare professionals on a daily basis. With a set-in-stone way of referring to a certain procedure, a nurse and a doctor can be sure that they are communicating clearly and effectively.
For example, if a nurse is directed to administer a medication to a patient, the nurse must know how the medication is being given—orally, intravenously, intramuscularly? All of these different methods for administering medication are intrinsically different. There is a certain danger in using everyday terms to give directions on how to administer medication, such as being told to give medication “in a patient’s arm.” Where on the arm? Through a vein or into a muscle? The giant discrepancy created by using general terms can prove dangerous in the healthcare industry, and may even lead to medical malpractice lawsuits. Other than day-to-day communication, medical terminology plays a strong role in the writing of case studies and in medical research. Thus, medical terminology has a concrete and long-standing role in the healthcare industry.

Why is Medical Terminology Important to Me?

As humans, who will inevitably need some form of healthcare in our lives, it is helpful to understand the procedures our doctors, nurses, surgeons, dentists, and other practitioners are doing on our bodies. Before a surgery, for example, a patient might want to know exactly which muscles a surgeon will be making incisions into instead of simply knowing that they will be made “inside the abdomen.”
Attaining a basic knowledge of how to piece together and understand medical terminology is an easy task for the willing. Most medical terms consist of Latin roots, prefixes, and suffixes. The word ‘gastroenterology’ can be broken into three parts—gastr/o, stomach; enter/o, intestines (usually small); and finally, -ology, the study of. From its three components, gastroenterology, then, refers to the study of the stomach and small intestines. More tutorials on medical terminology are available here.
More specifically, as patients, we should be less clueless about the workings of our bodies. Thus, the secret language of healthcare practitioners is not as secret as some might think. And why should it be, especially if it pertains to our health?


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2 Comments on “The Secret Language of Healthcare Practitioners
  1. I’m very curious to know if you’ve taken the course Medical Terminology at SBU. I’ve heard many good things about it, and while reading your blog I couldn’t help but think what a useful bit of knowledge that would be to get student’s “feet wet” into the medical world. I love the point you make at the end of your blog post, that the so-called secret language of healthcare.. isn’t all that secret.

    • Thank you for your feedback, Jasmeen. Yes–I have taken HAN 312 here at Stony Brook. It was a very informative course that helped me open my eyes to the specific terminology doctors, nurses, and other healthcare practitioners use.

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