MEANINGSAs a newly hired front office medical assistant, you are assisting a patient, Ms. Smith, who is taking a copy of her medical records to another physician for a second opinion. She looks at...


As a newly hired front office medical assistant, you are assisting a patient, Ms. Smith, who is taking a copy of her medical records to another physician for a second opinion. She looks at the top page of her medical record and says to you, “Why can’t you medical people speak in plain English? Why do you speak in this medical jargon?” She is pointing to the first paragraph of her record, which reads that Ms. Smith is a 60-year-old female who has had a left nephrectomy. She is currently being treated for esophagitis and recently had an episode of hematemesis. She is being referred to a gastroenterologist. She asks you what the words nephrectomy, esophagitis, hematemesis, and gastroenterologist mean.

You mentally analyze the words based on your understanding of roots and suffixes, and then explain to Ms. Smith the meaning of those words.

State the meaning of the words about which Ms. Smith is asking. Why do you think medical professionals have their own language? What are the benefits and drawbacks of using medical terminology?

Expert Answers
Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In today's world of electronic health records, it is particularly important that terms be agreed upon. There are various organizations and committees that tackle this problem. Most medical record software is pre-loaded with a nomenclature menu, and that means there must be standardization of terms, terms that can be recognized by health care professionals who must maintain records and rely upon those records to treat patients. When a patient has vomited blood, without a standard medical term, this could be entered as "vomiting of blood," "patient vomited blood," or some other combination of words.  Since most of this software is linked in ways that provide information on differential diagnosis steps, lab tests, for example, everyone really needs to use the same terminology to take the next steps or at least examine the next possibilities.  These systems do not work like Google, where one can put in "vomit" and "blood" and perhaps get some helpful results.  Additionally, coding and billing is now largely linked to such software, which means that terms must be universal and precise.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The medical profession involves scientific knowledge and discovery.  As such, it must be precise, so the vocabulary that is unique to this profession is employed of necessity.  Other professions have jargons that are theirs, such as that of the legal profession.  Indeed, there are terms that are specific to each profession, terms that have need of a precise  word that contains no confusing connotations.  The benefits of such vocabulary are that a precise meaning is communicated, one that cannot be misconstrued.  On the other hand, the patient often does not understand the physician's diagnosis unless the attending physician put these terms into commonplace diction that the patient can understand.

stolperia eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Medical terminology has developed over the ages because it is concise, accurate and specific, all of which are important characteristics when communicating about a patient's medical condition. Unfortunately, those who have not been educated regarding medical terminology find the vocabulary mystifying and threatening - as do all of us when encountering specialized terms for a field with which we are unfamiliar.

The solution, for the patient, is to ask questions or to find an advocate to ask or research to find definitions as needed. The terminology is going to continue to be used, and indeed will probably expand as medical research and treatment procedures continue to evolve.

readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

From a linguistic point of view, technical words are the only one that have precision. All other words have a large semantic domain. In view of this, the medical profession uses technical language for precision. Moreover, to be fair many other professions do the same thing, such as law, engineering, and so forth. So, the benefit is concision and precision. The downside is a lack of understanding among those outside the profession. With this said, I still favor the use of technical words. Precision is more important than stooping down to laypeople's understanding.

vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is an excellent question.  I knew enough about etymology is guess that "hematemesis" meant something to do with blood, but it was only after consulting a dictionary that I discovered that it meant vomiting of blood. I'm not sure that much precision would be lost if the doctor simply wrote "vomiting of blood." Perhaps the idea is to make it possible for doctors around the world to have a common set of terms, although I am not sure about this.  In any case, it's now very easy to look up such terms in a dictionary, although I wish it weren't necessary.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Clearly there are significant issues with having such a medical jargon that seems to obscure medicine as a discipline and prevent patients from understanding what is going on. However, at the same time, because medicine is such a precise discipline, we could argue that medical jargon is necessary for the precise and accurate treatment and understanding that allows doctors and nurses to treat us successfully. The truth is that the phrase "diarrhoeah" does not necessarily convey as much as "gastroenteritis."

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I believe that the drawbacks of using medical terminology are stated in the paragraph you supplied: they are not in "plain English" and patients before fearful of things they do not understand.

A benefit of using medical jargon, on the other hand, is that doctors are forced, sometimes, to keep their bedside manner well-checked. By using words which patients do not understand, doctors are forced to offer precise definitions for their patients and explain things completely (to those who ask).

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Medical professionals have their own language so that they can speak easily and quickly to one another.  It is quicker to say "esophagitis" rather than to say "some sort of inflammation in the esophagus."  It is also more accurate.  The drawback, of course, is that the use of jargon makes it harder for lay people to understand what is going on with their own health situations.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In addition to telling her what they mean, you might want to explain to her that using specific terminology actually helps her as a patient because the words are more precise.  You cannot just say, for example, she has a "tummy ache" because that could mean many things.