Terminally Bored – Making your way through medical jargon


If any more proof were needed that medical jargon can overwhelm, it’s that 45-letter word right there (Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis is actually a type of lung disease; it’s also the longest word in any English dictionary). Ouch.

Bemoaned by patients and NHS staff alike, medical terminology can (and is) tough to get to grips with. But it’s also critically important. Here’s why…

Medical terminology – A painful must-learn for all

From surgery receptionists to admin staff, there are an endless number of NHS workers who support the work of nurses, doctors and other medical professionals. Just one wrong word on the paperwork could have serious consequences.

Then there’s the practice manager – the multi-talented, multi-tasker who underpins the smooth operation of the surgery. They, like doctors, nurses and other staff, are time-pushed. Those minutes saved by him or her having a solid working knowledge of medical terms will always prove helpful.

Finally, there’s another issue. While most patients dislike and avoid medical jargon like the bubonic plague, others may pick up on key medical words and terms that are relevant to them. And if the surgery receptionist greets their medical jargon with a blank look, trust can be diminished before the patients even set foot into the treatment room.

With everyone on the same page, communication is more efficient, room for error is lower and interactions with patients can instil trust.

So, if you’re sitting comfortably (full cup of caffeine hopefully in hand), we’ll begin.

The basics of medical terminology – Four elements, one word

Medical terms can have up to four distinct sections – the root word, the beginning (prefix), the end (suffix), and combining vowels. Let’s explore each one by one.

Root words
The medical world really started gaining pace in Ancient Rome, where Latin, alongside Greek, were the spoken languages. Because of this as the medical profession developed, everything from illnesses to instruments were bestowed with Latin names. These words now underpin the medical profession of today.

Here’s a few examples (you can find the complete list of hundreds of root words over on the Wikipedia page – List of medical roots, suffixes and prefixes, the latter two we dig into in a moment)…
Card – Heart
Ost – Bone
Odont – Tooth
Uro – Urine
Crani – Skull
Encephal – Brain

Beginnings (prefixes)
A prefix, as the name suggests, is the opposite to a suffix and is a term that starts a root word to provide more detail to it. Some examples include…
Anti – Against
Tachy – Fast
Cycl- Circle/cycle
Dermat – Skin
Cerebr – Brain

Endings (suffixes)
Suffixes are tacked onto the end of a word. Again, this is to provide more detail. You may recognise the following common medical suffixes…
Scope – Viewing instrument
Ium – Structure
Acusis – Hearing
Aemia – Blood condition

Combining vowels
As you may now realise, there are some root words/prefix/suffix combinations that lead to complicated, unpronounceable words. For this reason, medical terms become that little bit more complicated with the addition of a vowel (which ensures that people can actually say them!).
Any vowel – a, e, i, o or u – can be used, but it’s most common to see ‘o’ as a combining vowel.
Cardi-o-scope – Instrument for examining the heart
Cardi-o-logy – The study of the heart and how it works
Tachy-card-ia – A rapid heart rate
My-o-card-ium – The muscle tissue of the heart

Acronyms break down multiple words by *usually* taking the first letter of each and using them to form a new word – like TCI which requests a patient ‘To Come In’ to see their clinician. We say *usually* as there are some exceptions to this rule, such as QDS meaning four times a day. This acronym comes from the Latin ‘Quarter die Sumendum’.

Tachy-o-Encephal-Test – the WTF?! Medical Acronym Pop Quiz

By now you should be feeling a little less overwhelmed with what *did* feel like endless medical terms.
To put your medical term knowledge to the test, let’s see if you can tackle the following 15 time-saving acronyms:


Before you go…

If this blog has shown anything, it’s that medical jargon can be dull and heavy on the brain cells. Our ‘Understanding Medical Terminology’ course makes learning medical words and terms fun (yes, really).

Through interactive sessions and group tasks, you and your team can improve your and their ability to use medical words and terms with confidence.

Learn more about our bore-free Medical Terminology Course.

Why Does Your Primary Care Network Need A Strategy?

The start of the journey for Primary Care Networks (PCNs) in May 2019 is just the beginning. 

To take your Network to the next stage of being operational, you will require a strategy that considers how it will operate and provide joined up models of care to benefit your local residents.

Luckily, Orr Medical Training can help. Download our handy factsheet on how your PCN can be strategy-ready.

Why Does Primary Care Training Sometimes Fail?

I was chatting to a few practice manager colleagues last week and the topic got onto GP reception staff training – always of interest to a GP and training practitioner like myself.

They were recalling past training sessions that had failed to have the desired effects; the change in behaviours, the way people just returned to the old ‘safe’ ways of doing things after a fortnight. I hasten to add they weren’t talking about Orr Medical Training of course but it got me thinking.

What are the most common reasons why primary care training fails? After working in the training field for many years, I’ve seen the following circumstances contribute towards why training – and group training in particular – doesn’t always go to plan plus how to resolve this.

3 Key Reasons For Training Failure

  • Staff are required to attend training without being given specific information about how it will specifically benefit them individually
  • Staff fail to fully engage with the training due to poor delivery methods
  • The training is delivered online rather than on a face to face basis leading to a lack of engagement.

Let’s break these down a little further.

Sending an employee to learn something that’s not instantly applicable to their everyday to-do list is a massive time waster. Sometimes on my courses, I’ll also come across practice staff who have been sent on training they don’t feel they need either. Number one job for you as a practice manager: explain to me how this course is going to make my life (not Susan or Debbie’s) easier and give me ideas I can use immediately.

Next up – let’s talk training methods. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been called in to ‘retrain’ teams because the previous training provider used outdated or boring training methods. Death by Powerpoint lectures, cringe-worthy ice-breakers or facilitators that dominate the discussions are all common culprits. And it’s really hard to have a good group discussion when the room is packed to the rafters. Even the most experienced trainer will struggle to check-in with each learner in this scenario.

And what about delivery method? Some courses are perfect to study online. Learners can study at their own pace, in their own time. Others that deal with any form of communication or practical task, I’d argue are always going to be more effective delivered face to face. Why? Because how else are staff going to learn the practical ‘how to’ examples and test these out safely for themselves?

Failed Training – An Expensive Problem

So nobody can deny the need for GP practice staff to have regular access to training courses. After all, training is key to delivering the high level of patient care that is essential at the point of delivery. However, when the training on offer fails to engage the staff who are attending, the financial impact can be serious. We know NHS funds are already severely limited. Therefore, it’s a no-brainer not to waste them on poor quality training. Not only is it a waste of money, it is also a waste of valuable NHS staff time who we desperately need onside.

A couple of weeks ago I was chatting to a practice manager who mentioned she had quite a young workforce in reception. The team had received some customer service training, but they reported back to the practice manager they hadn’t really got anything from it and the trainer had ‘droned on’ too much. When she told me this story, I knew the reason straight away. The trainer had failed to take today’s young people’s learning styles into consideration. Younger people learn differently nowadays and get bored very quickly. It’s not an opinion, it’s a fact; they’re taught differently now too. If the training isn’t entertaining or they’re not called upon to interact and participate, the trainer has lost.

With general practice under considerable pressure, it’s vital to ensure that staff spend their time only on worthwhile activities that can genuinely improve the patient experience and service delivery.

Resolving The Problem

The good news is that there are many excellent training courses out there for NHS frontline staff which represent outstanding value for money. The key to their success lies in their high level of staff engagement and participation. By allowing attendees to interact with the material and by offering real-life, practical examples which staff can relate to, the best reception staff training courses achieve the desired goal of increasing staff knowledge and expanding their skillset so that they can deal more effectively with patients and ensure the best possible level of service and care at a potentially challenging time in their lives.

How To Choose A Training Course For Your Frontline Staff

With so many GP practice staff training courses out there it can be hard to select the right one for your own frontline staff team. However, when it comes to finding an engaging, practical course that offers good value for money, there are a few key tips to keep in mind:

  • Always obtain case studies and testimonials from the course provider to ensure that previous course participants have been satisfied with the results.
  • Enquire about the trainer’s background. You need to be certain they have a strong understanding of the reality of working in a general practice environment, not just a generic trainer with no expert knowledge.
  • Find out how the course is delivered. Is it on a face to face basis? Does it involve practical activities and interactive elements? Is there a maximum delegate limit – smaller groups of less than 12 are best in our experience.
  • Does the course content sound like the previous training session you ran? Was it a success or could you spice things up with new trainers, different teaching styles especially for staff taking the same training again?
  • Ask about the training materials. Can you see an example of them to make sure they’re going to be in a format your team will understand and engage with afterwards and importantly, to make sure they are up to date?
  • What sort of follow-up training or support do they offer to participants? Will the provider bolt off into the sunset without so much as an email or phone number for support afterwards?
  • Finally – and this is a job for you – is the learning environment the best it can be? It sounds basic but learning can’t take place if people are too warm, too cold. Think about comfort. Think about the refreshments. Are they going to be distracted?

Orr Medical Training’s Outstanding Courses

I hope that’s given you plenty to think about and it goes without saying, when it comes to selecting the right training for your reception staff, Orr Medical Training are proud to offer some of the best courses around today.

We only use dedicated experts in their field, not generic trainers, who can’t answer the difficult questions because they are out of their depth. We only use bang up-to-date course materials too, written by the expert trainer themselves. And we always provide follow up and support as part of all our training packages.

With many of our practical courses offered as engaging half day workshops, these courses are a valuable use of NHS funds and staff time. Browse our courses and let’s work together soon.

Get in touch today for a no-obligation discussion.