10 Confusing Medical Terms that can Put Patients’ Health at Risk

Healthcare interpreters are expected to know and understand many different concepts and the vocabulary that describes them. Doctors often use terminology that is confusing to patients – and most times they’ve either never heard it before or even confuse it with a different term.

Professional healthcare interpreters must be familiar with these confusing medical terms, and must be able to accurately relay them between doctors and patients. If they don’t, the patient’s health could be at risk due to a misdiagnosis, or a misunderstanding about how to treat a health problem.

There are several instances where this could happen and where it could have unfortunate consequences:

  1. Healthcare InterpretersThe doctor uses a term that the patient is not familiar with, and no explanation is given about what it means. The patient assumes it is something else, or else does not understand their diagnosis and does not follow the treatment plan properly.
  1. A patient confuses one medical term with another, and the interpreter conveys this mistaken term to the doctor. As such the patient is misdiagnosed.
  1. The doctor uses one term without explanation, and the medical interpreter confuses it with another and conveys the wrong information to the patient.

Avoiding situations like these is extremely important in order to ensure Limited English Speaking patients get the best healthcare they can. Medical interpreter training will cover various confusing medical terms you should know, but it’s best to be familiar with some commonly misunderstood medical terms from the beginning.

Below we’ve listed 10 misused medical terms, and what each of them means, so you can be prepared to avoid misunderstandings in the future!


10 Examples of Confusing Medical Terminology for Healthcare Interpreters

  1. irregular heartbeatOral and Aural – oral refers to the mouth, and aural the ears.
  2. Palpation and Palpitation – the first is the act of a doctor feeling with his or her fingers for broken bones, the second is an irregular heartbeat.
  3. Dimentia vs Alzheimers – these are often used interchangeably, but in reality they are two different things. Dementia is the term that encompasses symptoms of memory or reasoning impairment, Alzheimer’s is a disease that falls under the category of dementia.
  4. Fracture, sprain, and strain – a fracture is a broken bone, a sprain refers to your ligaments (keeping your bones in place) being torn, and a strain is when your muscles get damaged from overstretching.
  5. Electrocardiogram and echocardiogram – the first (an EKG) checks irregularities in heartbeat, chemical imbalances, and muscle/tissue damage. The second is a picture of the heart (using ultrasound technology) that allows doctors to look for clots, tumors, and more.
  6. Medical TermsHypertension and hypotension – the first refers to high blood pressure, and has dangerous side effects, the second is low blood pressure and usually won’t cause serious issues.
  7. Dysphagia and Dysphasia – Dysphagia is a condition that makes swallowing difficult or painful, and dysphasia refers to an injury of the brain that renders communication difficult or impossible.
  8. Artery and Vein - Arteries are tubes that deliver blood full of oxygen from the heart to the body, veins bring back the blood when it is depleted of oxygen.
  9. Irritated Bowly Syndrome vs Inflammatory Bowel Disease – the first (IBS) is not considered a disease, and generally refers to someone’s digestive system working improperly for an unknown reason. The second (IBD) is a disease, and can have side effects including ulcers, bleeding, and tiredness.
  10. Psychosis and Sycosis – Psychosis refers to a mental symptom where people lose touch with reality and begin seeing or hearing things that aren’t there. Sycosis is an inflammation of the hair follicles.


Medical Interpreter Training is Paramount to Avoiding Miscommunication

Healthcare InterpretersIf you are just beginning as a medical interpreter, it is extremely important for you to receive proper medical interpreter training to avoid making mistakes like confusing health terminology.

This will help you not only be more prepared when it comes to landing jobs, but it will help you ensure the patient you are communicating for is receiving proper medical attention.

For those looking to become a medical interpreter, Language Connections offers a 7 week, 60 hour Medical Interpreter Certification course.  Our students in this course gain experience with the various skills of interpretation, as well as participate in real-life scenarios medical interpreters commonly encounter through the use of role plays and exercises.

Topics covered include:

  • The ethics of interpreting
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Medical terminology
  • The basic technique of consecutive and bilateral interpreting

At the end of the course students receive a certification of completion, which they can use to prove completed training hours when applying for medical interpreter positions.

So, now that you’ve gotten an idea of some of the most confusing medical terms, take the next step in your path towards becoming a medical interpreter and join our next Medical Interpreter Training course today!

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