What is Medical Terminology? [Explanations + Helpful Resources]

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Medical Terminology 101: Definitions, Applications & Helpful Resources

Understanding medical terminology can make all the difference in critical health situations. And while understanding medical language is serious business for care providers, learning medical terminology can actually be a thought-provoking, interesting crash course in the history and development of language and parts of speech.

For those who are new to, or are looking to enter the medical field, having a firm grasp on medical verbiage, roots and meanings can give you a leg up as you continue your studies and progress in your career. To get you started, here is our introductory guide to medical terminology, which will serve as a solid foundation as you work to diversify and enhance your medical language skills.

What is Medical Terminology

Medical terminology refers to the words and language used specifically in the medical and health fields. The proper definition describes medical terminology as language used to describe anatomical structures, procedures, conditions, processes and treatments in the medical field.

While memorizing terms across that many disciplines might seem impossible, medical language can be simplified when you understand that nearly all medical terms can be broken down into three parts: the prefix, the root and the suffix.

  • Prefix — appears at the beginning of a term and indicates a location, direction, type, quality or quantity.
  • Root — can appear at the beginning of the word if prefix is absent, but the root indicates the primary meaning of the medical term.
  • Suffix — appears at the end of the word and indicates a specialty, test, procedure, function, disorder or status.

Why is Medical Terminology Important in the Medical Field

Medical terminology is the linguistic foundation on which the entire healthcare system is built. Because physicians are trained at varying universities and complete their training across different hospitals and disciplines and geographies, having a singular medical terminology system ensures that effective care is delivered while reducing the potential for miscommunication.

  • More specifically, medical terminology is important for a few reasons, both for medical professionals and the field itself. Medical terminology courses or certificates are usually a prerequisite for most graduate degree or certificate programs in the healthcare field.
  • For those already working in the medical field — such as medical records specialists, radiology techs and even physicians — a refresher on traditional and new medical terminology can be helpful and may even be required for license renewal.

Why is Standardization of Medical Terminology Important?

Studies show that a standardized medical terminology system can improve overall hospital operations — both in terms of data and clinical applications of such data. A second report found that medical terminology and the usage of structured reporting can improve the usage of medical information in secondary activities, such as research, public health and case studies. This not only will help make research efforts more efficient, it will likely result in better outcomes for patients and medical innovation.

Additional benefits of standardized medical terminology include:

  • Ensures consistent documentation of clinical information
  • Creates a streamlined system for data entry and retrieval across electronic medical records for billing and insurance purposes
  • Ensures a consistent understanding of language across the continuum of care
  • Ensures that all relevant parties are educated across a universal standard Improves patient care and safety, research and evidence-based medicine
  • Helps promote efficient communication
  • Helps create a seamless patient experience

Medical Terminology: Examples of Prefixes

Prefixes are a part of speech for language outside of the medical realm, as you will likely recognize many and their corresponding meanings. Here is a quick breakdown of some of the most common and widely used prefixes in medical terminology, as seen in the online medical dictionary, OpenMd

 

Size

large

macro-, mega(lo)-

small

micro-

 

Number

half

semi-

half (one side)

hemi-

one

mono-, uni-

two | three | four

bi- | tri- | qua(dr/r/t)-

equal

equi-

many

poly-

 

Level

above normal

hyper-

below normal

hypo-

normal/good

eu-

 

Time or Speed

after

post-

again

re-

back/backward

retro-

before

pro-, pre-, ante-

fast

tachy-

new

neo-

time, long time

chron-

slow

brady-

 

Location or Relationship

away from

ab-

above

supra-

around

peri-

across

trans-

between

inter-

out of, outside

ex-, ec(t)-

self

auto-

through, completely

dia-

together

con-

toward

ad-

within, inside

end(o)-

 

Function or Quality

against

anti-, contra-

bad

mal-

cause

eti-

self

auto-

without

a-, de-

not working correctly

dys-

 

Medical Terminology: Examples of Root Words

A lot of medical terms get their roots from Latin and ancient Greek language, much like many words in the English and romance languages. Here are some of the most common medical root words healthcare providers must know.

Head

brain

enceph

ear

ot, aur

eardrum

tympan, myring

eye

aphthalm, ocul

face

faci

nose

rhin

skull

crani

tongue

lingu

tooth

odont, dent

 

Heart and Circulatory

aorta

aort

arteries

arteri

blood

hem, sangu

blood vessels

angi

heart

cardi

veins

ven, phleb

 

Bones and Muscles

arm

brachi

back

dorsa

bones

oste

foot

pod, ped

muscles

myo

rib

cost

shoulder

scapul

wrist

carp

 

Digestive System

appendix

append

colon

col

esophagus

esophag

intestine (usually small)

inter

kidney

ren, neph

liver

hepat

stomach

gastr

 

Other Common Roots

cancer

carci

drug

chem

electric

electr

heat

therm

knowledge

gnos

life

bi

pressure

bar

returned sound

echo

Medical Terminology: Examples of Suffixes

The last ingredient in a medical term is likely the suffix, which provides more specifics about the term’s application. Here are just a few of the most important medical suffixes to know.

Basic Noun and Adjective Suffixes

(noun form)

-a, -e, -um, -is

causing

-genic

condition

-ia, -ism, -sis, -y

specialty

-iatry, -iatrics, -ics

specialist

-ian, -ist

structure

-um, -us

study of

-logy

pertaining to

-ac, -ar(y), -(e/i)al, -ic(al), -ior, -ory, -ous, -tic

 

Tests and Procedures

removal of

-ectomy

image/record/td>

-gram

making a picture

-graph(y)

cut in

-otomy

viewing

-scopy

opening

-stomy

 

Pathology or Function

blood (condition of)

-emia

breathing

-pnea

inflammation

-itis

condition or disease

-osis

deficiency

-penia

disease

-pathy

excessive flow

-rrhag(e/ia)

mass/tumor

--oma

Medical Terminology Resources List

Just as you would with any new skill, expanding your vocabulary and learning medical terminology takes practice, practice, practice. To assist you during your studies, we’ve rounded up some helpful resources and study tools focused on medical terminology.

No matter what resource you turn to, we recommend starting with the Medical Terminology course from the University of San Diego. This online, self-paced course allows you to immerse yourself in the world of medical language in a way that works for you and your schedule. Participants in this course gain a deep understanding of important medical, diagnostic and laboratory abbreviations and terms they will need throughout their medical careers. To learn more about this course or any of our healthcare programs, please contact us.

Common Questions About the USD Medical Terminology Course

Q: How long will this course take me to complete?

A: This course has a maximum of six (6) months from the date of enrollment to complete the course. Students are recommended to allocate a minimum of two weeks (14 calendar days) per semester unit to complete a course; this time frame allows for instructor interaction and feedback between assignments.

Q: How is this course accessed?

A: This course is taught in a Learning Management System called Blackboard, and can be accessed at https://ole.sandiego.edu. Students will have full access to the course within two hours of registration.

Q: When can I order transcripts?

A: Once all course work is submitted, a final grade is submitted by the instructor. The grade is then approved by the office and posted. Once a final grade is posted, official transcripts can be requested — learn more about transcript requests here.

Q: What materials do I need to purchase?

A:  The textbook set for this course should be purchased directly from the publisher.

 

 

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