Why Is Medical Terminology Important?


Medical terminology is the backbone of healthcare communication, promoting accuracy, safety, and efficiency in patient care while facilitating global collaboration and advancing medical science. This standardized language enables healthcare professionals to quickly and accurately assess a patient’s needs and communicate with their care team, resulting in overall better patient outcomes.

The Role of Medical Terminology in Healthcare

When Is Medical Terminology Used?

Who Needs to Understand Medical Terminology?

Medical Terminology Examples 

Importance of Knowing Medical Terminology 

How to Improve Your Medical Terminology Skills

Frequently Asked Questions

The Role of Medical Terminology in Healthcare

Medical terminology serves as the universal language that allows healthcare professionals to communicate effectively and accurately. This language consists of official terms and abbreviations that describe anatomy, bodily functions, diseases, diagnoses, treatments, procedures, and more.

It’s important for healthcare professionals — including physician assistants, occupational therapists, and physical therapists — to learn and understand the formal names for medical conditions and procedures. Many terms are often abbreviated for efficiency, lending an additional collection of acronyms to this universal language.

When Is Medical Terminology Used?

Medical terminology is used extensively and in various contexts throughout the healthcare industry. Not only is it critical in the surgical ward or the emergency room, but it’s also useful for medical receptionists, health insurance agents, health information technicians, and more.

The following are the most common uses for medical terminology:

  • Patient care: When used during patient assessments, diagnoses, and treatment planning, medical terminology enables healthcare providers to accurately describe symptoms, conditions, and procedures, ensuring that patient care is well-informed and consistent.
  • Medical records: Healthcare facilities maintain detailed medical records for each patient they serve. These records are filled with medical terminology to document a patient’s medical history, medications, lab results, and treatment plans comprehensively.
  • Prescriptions: Doctors use medical terminology when writing prescriptions, specifying the medication, dosage, and administration instructions clearly and unambiguously.
  • Medical billing: Billing specialists use medical codes to denote conditions, medications, and treatments for a patient’s insurance provider, ensuring that the patient is covered or billed accordingly for the care they receive.
  • Consultations and referrals: When physicians consult with specialists or refer patients to other healthcare providers, they rely on medical terminology to convey vital and accurate information about the patient’s condition and requirements.
  • Medical imaging: Radiologists and other healthcare technicians use medical terminology to describe findings on X-rays, MRIs, CT scans, and other imaging studies, ensuring precise reporting and treatment recommendations.
  • Medical research: Scientists and researchers use medical terminology in scholarly articles, clinical trials, and research papers to share their findings with colleagues and contribute to the global body of medical knowledge.
  • Education and training: Medical terminology is a fundamental component of healthcare education. It equips students with the vocabulary needed to understand and communicate effectively in clinical settings.
  • Health information systems: Electronic health records (EHRs) and healthcare IT systems rely heavily on medical terminology for data input, retrieval, and exchanges between healthcare providers and facilities.

Who Needs to Understand Medical Terminology?

Of course, it’s critical for doctors, nurses, and those in other clinical roles to understand medical terminology so they can administer proper care and communicate with their colleagues. Aspiring medical practitioners are almost always required to be proficient in medical terminology for admission into graduate programs. It’s even important for some non-clinical healthcare professionals to become familiar with common terms.   

The following individuals are typically required (or at least strongly encouraged) to learn medical terminology.

Clinical roles:

  • General practitioners
  • Physician assistants
  • Medical trainees
  • Occupational therapists
  • Physical therapists
  • Emergency medical technicians (EMTs)
  • Emergency responders (911 operators)
  • Nurses
  • Nursing students & aides
  • Social workers
  • Home healthcare providers

Non-clinical roles:

  • Medical receptionists / office managers
  • Medical researchers
  • Pharmacists
  • Insurance companies
  • Billing specialists
  • Medical coders
  • Healthcare informaticists
  • Medical compliance officers

It’s typically not necessary for patients to understand medical terminology; doing so will not affect their care. However, some patients like to understand what certain terms or abbreviations indicate on their charts or in their records, since it helps them feel more engaged in their own care, which can contribute to increased compliance. 


Taking a medical terminology course is a great first step to equip you with the skills and knowledge you’ll need to be successful.

Why You Need a Medical Terminology Course

Examples of Medical Terminology

Often, when we talk about health conditions in a non-clinical setting, we use common terms that might describe a collection of symptoms, rather than the formal name for a specific disease, condition, or type of injury. For example, you might tell a coworker that you were out sick with a cold and a bad sore throat; your healthcare provider would have recorded that you had an upper respiratory tract infection (URI) with acute pharyngitis.

Medical terms usually consist of a root word, a prefix, and/or a suffix that lends specificity to the description of a health condition. Many terms originate from Greek or Latin, which is why they might sound unfamiliar or obscure to the untrained ear. Once you become familiar with enough common prefixes, roots, and suffixes, you can begin to understand how the language of medicine is constructed.

Here are five examples of common medical terms, defined and broken into their discrete parts:

  • Pharyngitis = Sore throat
    • pharyng- = pharynx, or throat
    • -itis = disease or inflammation
  • Ante cibum (AC) = Before meals
    • ante = before
    • cibum = food
  • Intravenous = Administered through a vein
    • intra- = within
    • -venous = relating to a vein
  • Myocardial infarction = Heart attack
    • myo- = muscle
    • -cardial = of the heart
    • infarction = tissue death
  • Appendectomy = Removal of the appendix
    • append- = appendix
    • -ectomy = removal

Importance of Knowing Medical Terminology

The ability for all members of a healthcare team to understand and communicate using medical terminology is important for a number of reasons:

It promotes clarity and precision.

Medical terminology eliminates ambiguity by providing precise words and phrases to describe conditions and procedures. This clarity is vital to prevent misunderstandings that could have serious consequences for both patients and care providers.

It standardizes healthcare around the world.

Healthcare is a global industry, and standardized medical terminology ensures that professionals worldwide can understand each other. This is especially important in today’s interconnected healthcare systems.

It supports efficiency.

In fast-paced healthcare settings, concise and standardized language helps healthcare providers save time. It allows for quick, accurate documentation of patient information and facilitates efficient communication between care team members.

It ensures patient safety.

Medical terminology helps prevent errors in diagnoses and treatments by ensuring that everyone involved in a patient’s care understands the same information, reducing the risk of mistakes.

It contributes to furthering medical research.

Medical terminology is the foundation of medical literature and research. It enables healthcare professionals to access, understand, and contribute to ever-expanding medical knowledge.

It supports career advancement.

As with any type of professional and continuing education, building your medical terminology skills can lead to promotions and increase your hireability in the healthcare field. Even if you don’t work in a clinical role, being able to list this as a skill on your resume can make you stand out as a particularly valuable asset.

How to Improve Your Medical Terminology Skills

If you are an aspiring doctor, nurse, physician’s assistant, physical or occupational therapist, or even veterinary student, medical terminology is a cornerstone of your profession, and is a skill you will likely need to advance to graduate school. The good news (especially if you are a non-clinical healthcare worker) is that you do not need to attend medical or nursing school to become proficient in medical terminology.

Courses are available through many colleges and universities, often in a convenient online format. The online Medical Terminology course from the University of San Diego (USD) School of Professional and Continuing Education, for example, is a self-paced course that gives students six months to complete all units. You may also be able to find medical terminology courses through local trade schools, adult education programs, training manuals and textbooks, and even trade publications.

Proficiency in medical terminology can open up many new career possibilities — plus, it helps both clinical and non-clinical professionals become stronger members of their teams. For more convenient, practical continuing education programs, explore USD’s catalog of healthcare courses and certificates.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where can I learn medical terminology?

Medical terminology courses are available through many colleges and universities, often in a convenient online format. You may also be able to find medical terminology courses through local trade schools, adult education programs, training manuals and textbooks, and even trade publications.

Who needs to know medical terminology?

Doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals must learn medical terminology so they can administer proper patient care and communicate with their colleagues. Additionally, many non-clinical roles are typically required (or at least strongly encouraged) to learn common terms, including healthcare informaticists, billing specialists, medical receptionists, pharmacists, medical researchers, and healthcare compliance officers.

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