The medical landscape is constantly changing, advancing and evolving.
As new medical evidence is published with changes in treatment and drug therapy, those in the business of medical writing are continuously reading new terms.
It may feel like you’re learning a foreign language when you write about medicine. And although you don’t need to have a medical degree to be a medical writer, it’s important your writing reflects your knowledge of basic medical terminology.
If you’re faced with reading a complicated or unrecognisable medical term, having the right resources at your fingertips is essential.
Access to a library of resources to keep up-to-date should be part of every medical writer’s toolkit. Today, medical writers can find resources online, in hardcopy or from mobile phone apps.
So, here’s a quick look at how to find useful resources for your toolkit.
What does basic medical terminology include?
- Abbreviations for medical and pharmacological terms, such as ECG, FBC or b.d. (In case you’re wondering, FBC is ‘full blood count’).
- Understanding the functions of the body
- Common illnesses, injuries and diseases – including health topics and terms used to describe onset or nature of disease
- Health insurance terminology
- Understanding medical training, medical specialties and fields
- Names of hospital departments
- Medical equipment and instruments
- Medical investigations and procedures
Resources to help you understand medical terms
The following resources can help you to understand both complex and basic medical terminology.
Medical terminology books
Elsevier Health recently published Mastering Medical Terminology for Australia and New Zealand. This is a useful book for writers who want to learn the correct use of medical terminology. It can be used as a self-taught guide when used with support materials.
There are many locally published books, and if it’s too expensive to buy medical textbooks you can visit a university faculty of medicine library or even try your local library.
Medical dictionary apps
Medical dictionaries, sometimes the size of bricks, are not pleasant for earnest writers to lug around. Stedman’s Concise Medical Dictionary, Taber’s and Dorland’s have full text editions still used today by medical students, doctors and health professionals.
More practically, though, writers are using many of the available downloadable apps developed for phones, tablets and laptops. Taber and Dorland’s are two of manyf medical dictionaries that now have software compatible with android and iPhones.
Typing a medical term into an online website is the quickest and most efficient way to understand a complicated medical term. Here are a few commonly used ones, but there are plenty of websites offering medical dictionaries online.
- GlobalrPh is a useful online dictionary that lists basic medical terminology and meanings. Sorted alphabetically, there are literally thousands of medical terms in their database.
- Mondofacto allows you to type in a medical term and also sorts terms according to category.
- MediLexicon has a simple query allowing the user to type a medical term and clicking ‘Go’ finds a definition from 100,000 medical terms.
The Merck Manual
This nineteenth century medical reference textbook, The Merck Manual has been adapted for users today and contains an online section on understanding medical terms. The section breaks down how the components into prefixes, Latin and Greek roots and suffixes and has a complete list of the most commonly used.
Knowing the meaning of a small number of components gives a background to basic medical terminology and can assist with large numbers of medical terms.
Using medical terminology in your writing
These days, you can find medical & health writing courses to help you improve your writing skills.
Do you have a sure-fire method of finding understanding complicated medical terms? Share your tips below.