Medical Terminology for Interpreters

by | Apr 6, 2022 | Medical Translations

Medical terminology for interpreters is one of the biggest hurdles that professionals in the field will encounter. This is a comprehensive guide on how to regulate and overcome this issue.   

Medical interpreters are subject to a superior standard when it comes to dealing with medical terminologies. They need to understand concepts and medical terms as it can play a factor in the health and safety of patients. 

Medical Terminology for Interpreters 1How Confusing Medical Terms Can Put Patients’ Lives at Risk

Healthcare and medical interpreters must possess a deep knowledge and understanding of key medical terms. It is their responsibility to make it easy for patients to understand the common medical procedures, treatments, and protocols. Depending on the context, the same terms could mean different things. 

It is no secret that doctors and medical professionals use a lot of terminologies and jargons that the layperson might not be able to fully understand. This is where the role of the medical interpreter plays a key factor. They will serve to bridge that gap and to ensure that patients’ health and safety are not put on the line.

When there is a miscommunication, patient health could be put at risk due to a misdiagnosis or confusion about the appropriate treatment for a given medical issue. Consider these common scenarios when confusion could happen in a medical setting without the help of a medical interpreter. 

Scenario 1: A doctor uses a medical term that is unfamiliar to the patient without providing an explanation. The patient assumes it means one thing or does not fully understand the doctor’s instructions. As a result, s/he is unable to properly follow the recommended treatment plan.

Scenario 2: A patient confuses a medical term to mean something else This results in the misdiagnosis of a patient. 

Scenario 3: The doctor uses a medical term that the medical interpreter misunderstands. The interpreter relays the wrong information to the patient. 

It is important to avoid any of these three common scenarios to protect the health and safety of patients. Medical interpretation is integral to providing patients with the best possible healthcare. The presence of these risks is the reason why it is crucial for medical interpreters to get the adequate amount of training that will avoid confusion and miscommunication. 

Commonly Confused Medical Terminology

Medical Terminology for Interpreters 2There are several commonly confused medical terminologies that interpreters must be aware of. As the ones that are responsible for bridging the gap in communication between doctors and patients, it is important that medical interpreters are familiar with terms that might be easily confused and to understand the context of their use. 

Here is a list of the confusing medical terminologies:

Fracture vs Sprain

A fracture is when the bone is broken. Meanwhile, a sprain is when the ligaments are torn. 

Hypertension and Hypotension

Hypertension is when the patient suffers from high blood pressure. On the other hand, hypotension is characterised by low blood pressure. 

Irritable Bowel Syndrome vs Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Irritable bowel syndrome is not a disease; it is when the digestive system is not functioning properly leading to a host of side effects. Inflammatory bowel disease is considered a disease with a host of symptoms such as bleeding and ulcer. 

Artery vs Vein

An artery is a tube where oxygen-filled blood passes from the heart and distributes it to the rest of the body. Veins, on the other hand, transports blood when it is deprived of oxygen. 

Alzheimer’s Disease vs Dementia

These are two of the most commonly interchanged medical terms; however, they are different. Dementia is a general term that refers to an impairment of memory or reasoning. Alzheimer’s Disease is one of the conditions that fall under dementia.

Echocardiogram vs Electrocardiogram

Echocardiogram (ECG) is a procedure that involves the use of ultrasound technology as part of the diagnosis process to detect the presence of tumors and the like. On the other hand, electrocardiogram (EKG) is a procedure that checks for any imbalance in the muscles and tissues, as well as irregular heartbeat patterns. 

Hyperthyroidism vs Hypothyroidism

An overactive thyroid gland is known as hyperthyroidism. This causes the body’s metabolism to rise resulting in a significant weight loss and irregular (or rapid) heartbeat. Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid gland is unable to produce enough hormones that results in the manifestation of several symptoms such as weight gain, infertility, brain fog, chronic exhaustion, and other complications.

Perineal vs Peroneal

Perineal is the pelvic floor and peroneal is located outside of the calf. 

Palpitation vs Palpation

Palpitation is characterised by the rapid beating of the heart, which is often pounding. This is not a serious condition, however. Palpation, on the other hand, is when a doctor uses his or her hand to assess damage in the bones, tissues, and for other internal damage in the body. 

Sycosis vs Psychosis

Sycosis is a chronic inflammation in the hair follicles that is triggered by the presence of a bacteria. On the other hand, psychosis is a mental disorder that results from substance abuse, trauma, or chronic stress. A patient who is diagnosed with psychosis is disconnected from reality and hallucinates things that aren’t real. 

The Importance of Medical Interpreter Training

Medical Terminology for Interpreters 3Understanding the risks involved with medical interpretation, proper training is a must. This is true whether you are a beginner or you have been a medical interpreter for years. Medical interpreter training is the best way to overcome common mistakes in the field and to gain familiarity with various medical terms that can lead to miscommunication. 

Training is integral in landing your job as a medical interpreter. However, the most important benefit of training is the ability to ensure that patients get the appropriate medical attention they need due to accurate and relevant medical interpretation. 

It is for this same reason why training is an important requirement for aspiring medical interpreters. To start, medical interpreters must complete a 60-hour course to get certified. The hours of training will provide the students with the necessary knowledge and experience to overcome the nuances of the medical terms and the context of their use. 

The initial 60-hour training is necessary but it is not enough. Continuing education is recommended for medical interpreters. 

Continuing Education for Medical Interpreters

Medical interpreters who want to excel in this career must seek out continuing education opportunities. This will support the existing knowledge base that they have and update it based on the prevailing industry standards. 

The medical field is a rapidly growing one. There are new technologies, procedures, and terminologies that emerge from time to time. It is important for medical interpreters to keep up with that pace. Being certified once does not mean that you can maintain your profession using that certification. You need to enroll in continuing education courses for medical interpreters to ensure that your knowledge and skills meet and uphold global standards. 

As standards change at a regular and rapid pace in the medical field, it is important that you have the ability to communicate that to patients. 


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