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Getting to grips with medical terminology: A guide for Practice Managers

It’s important for all operational managers to have a solid understanding of the many different aspects of their workplace, allowing them to know how best they can add value to the business. 

Practice managers are truly generalist operational managers. As such, they need to understand enough medical terminology to recognise opportunities to make a difference in their practice, while at the same time avoiding any possible temptation to turn themselves into ‘quasi-clinicians’.

With that in mind, here’s a brief guide to medical terminology that will be of help to many practice managers. In general, medical words are built up of different sections. Gaining a firm grasp of this architecture can give understanding to a wide range of medical terms.

These different sections can fall into four parts, although not all words will use all four parts. The parts are:

1. Core Words (word roots)

This is the basic medical component of the word. It may have its origins in Greek or Latin words. For example:

i. Card - Heart

ii.Ost - Bone

2. Endings (suffixes)

These come at the end of a word and are added to give the core word a more precise meaning. For example:

i. ----- scope - Viewing instrument

ii.------------ ium - Structure

iii.----- iology - The study of

3. Beginnings (prefixes)

The prefix comes before the core word. For example:

i. Anti - Against

ii. Tachy - Fast

4. Combining vowels

Some of the words produced by this architecture are only pronounceable through the insertion of vowels. This can be any of the vowels but “O” is the most common, as in:

i. Cardi-o-scope - Instrument for examining the heart

ii. Cardi-o-logy - The study of the heart and how it works

iii.Tachy-card-ia - A rapid heart rate

iiii.My-o-card-ium - The muscle tissue of the heart


Whilst understanding medical terms can provide valuable context for PMs, it is the everyday use of TLAs (three-letter acronyms) and other abbreviations that can serve to oil the wheels of most practices’ day-to-day business.

Some of the most commonly used acronyms include;

  • TCI – Requesting a patient – “To Come Into” see a clinician
  • TTO – Medicine given to patients on hospital discharge “To Take Out”
  • FBC – “Full Blood Count”
  • NSAIDs – Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs
  • QDS – Four times a day – from the Latin “Quater die Sumendus”

It will vary from person to person as to how much medical terminology they need to do their job, but an introduction to these terms from clinical colleagues should form an important part of any induction.

Making the most of your knowledge

Most important of all, as a practice manager grows into their role they should always feel able to ask colleagues to explain any terms which they do not understand. To enable a PM to manage a practice safely and to add value to the business, they must first understand all of the processes involved.

Whilst this knowledge can be developed through in-house mentoring and interaction with colleagues, anyone who feels that they would benefit from an external intervention can consult their CCG or commissioning body to learn about extra support resources. 

Primary care training specialists Thornfields run highly popular and effective courses on this subject, including Medical Terminology for Non-Clinical Staff. For more information, visit

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