Scratching your head over medical terminology? Learn the 3 reasons to know medical terminology if you’re a medical coder or have thoughts of being one.  

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Having a strong grasp of medical terminology is not just for physicians and nurses. Medical coders and billers need to understand it as well. In fact, anyone who works in healthcare and deals with patient records must know the language.

What You Will Learn in a Medical Terminology Course

As a new student in medical terminology, you will learn thousands of medical terms, how to define and pronounce them, and how the terms are abbreviated.

You will do quite a bit of memorization and written work, and get a lot of practice using these terms. You may even take a combination course where anatomy is integrated into the medical terminology, which is offered by both AAPC and CCO

According to Betsy J. Shiland in Medical Terminology & Anatomy for Coding, 3rd Edition:

“Learning the specific anatomy and terminology necessary for ICD-10 and CPT is the key to assigning codes correctly. Those who learn medical terminology and its direct connections to anatomy will pass their coding tests and learn to assign codes with more confidence and accuracy.”

picture of medical terminology quick reference guide to sign up for

Breaking Down Into Word Parts

Medical terms can be long, baffling, and difficult to pronounce. At least in the beginning.

And most medical terms are translatable, meaning they can be broken down into Greek and Latin word parts.

These word parts (roots, suffixes, and prefixes) appear repeatedly in different terms but hold the same meanings. Once you learn how to break down these words, it won’t be so overwhelming and you will be able to determine the meanings of many terms. You just need to know how.

For example:

Let’s take the term “pericarditis” and break it down into its word parts:

  • Peri (prefix) + card (root) + itis (suffix)
  • “Peri” translates to surrounding; “card” translates to the heart; “itis” translates to inflammation.
  • Pericarditis means inflammation of the area surrounding the heart.

Medical terms always have at least one “root” and sometimes they have several. They do not always have a prefix or suffix.

Now let’s look at the term, “sternocleidomastoid”. This term has three roots and no prefix or suffix:

  • Stern (root) – o – cleid (root) – o – mastoid (root)
  • “Stern” translates to sternum; “cleid” translates to the clavicle; “mastoid” is, simply, the mastoid.
  • The vowels (“o”) are used to make the term easier to pronounce and are referred to as combining vowels.
  • Sternocleidomastoid is a muscle of the neck that originates in the sternum and clavicle (collarbone) and inserts at the mastoid process.


As a medical coder or biller, you are expected to have a clear understanding of medical terminology if you are to succeed in healthcare. Without it, you will be unable to do your job and you may even put a patient at risk of physical harm and affect reimbursement. 

How I Can Help You

I have created a Medical Terminology Quick Reference Guide – a cheat sheet of sorts – to make it quicker and easier for you to learn these terms. The terms are broken down by common word roots, prefixes, suffixes, and combining vowels, and examples are included. The body systems and their parts are also provided.

To get your free Reference Guide, complete the form below.